UNIVERSAL SUPPLY COMPANY FIRE PARKERSBURG WV
Mackey's Antiques & Clock
1249 Gihon Road
Parkersburg WV 26101
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Universal Fire Loss $1,500,000 A blaze that apparently started in the trash storage area caused an estimated $1.5 million in damages at the Universal Supply Co. Thursday, August 27, 1987, keeping some 75 fire fighters busy for several hours. Four fire fighters sought hospital treatment for smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion. It was apretty intense heat in there when we first got here. It was very hard to work in, Sgt. John Harris of the Parkersburg Fire Department said.
Harris was on the first fire truck to arrive at the scene at about 1:50 p. m. Fire fighters from Parkersburg, Vienna, Williamstown and Belpre were at the scene, along with a mixture of volunteers from other departments who apparently came to the fire on their own. Parkersburg fire fighters remained at the scene until about 7:30 p. m. Company workers stayed on the scene over night to prevent looting.
Parkersburg fire fighter Steve Deem was kept over night in St Joseph's Hospital for observation. Three other fire fighters, two from Parkersburg and one from Vienna were treated and released at area hospitals for smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion. Other fire fighters sought temporary rest at an aid station set up near the fire.
Universal Supply deals in electrical, plumbing and heating supplies. Many of the appliances inside the building could be heard popping and exploding as fire fighters battled the blaze. Several times Universal workers used a forklift to tear holes in the siding to allow smoke to escape and allow fire fighters to hose the inside area with water.
A metal, windowless building. That's just about the worst thing for a fire fighter, Parkersburg Fire Chief Steve Gainer said. All that heat builds up inside and makes it hard to handle. After the fire was put out the inside of the building still smelled of smoke and water covered the floor. Charred and smoke blackened equipment and supplies were all over the interior.
Parkersburg Inspector H. L. Barnhouse said officials are still trying to determine how the fire started. We know it started back in the trash area, Barnhouse said. However we don't know exactly how it got underway. Barnhouse said it possibly could have started in some wiring, by a trash dumpster or by some pipes which lead to an outside drain.
It could have been in any of those spots. We'll be looking the area over for the next few days Barnhouse said. John Rexroad, Universal Supply manager, said employees don't know what happened. We heard something go around the alley in the trash area he said. After that the fire started. We did what we could with fire extinguishers and called the emergency number.
All 30 Universal employees escaped injury. Rexroad said the damage is extensive. Right now I'd make a rough guess of at least $1.5 million, he said. It's going to depend on how much of our supplies we had in the storage area. We had about $1.25 million in stores on all our property but we don't know how much was in the damaged area. Rexroad said his $1.5 million estimate was based on about $750,000 damage to the building and an additional $750,000 in the supplies.
The adjustors are either coming in late tonight with lights or tomorrow morning Rexroad said. Right now we're about 90 percent out of business. How quick we get back depends on how quickly we find storage space for what we have left. After fire fighters arrived at the scene, they tried to contain most of the fire to the one-and-a-half story storage building and keep it away from the one story office area, one Parkersburg fire fighter said. "We tried to keep it within the one area so we could concentrate as much man power as we could on it Lt. Steve Jackson said.
Jackson said Harris and the first truck went after the fire in the rear trash area, where the blaze apparently started. Thursday's hot, sticky weather didn't help, Jackson said. One of the hardest parts was setting up Jackson said. Carrying the equipment and getting everything ready was enough to wear you out in five minutes. And that was before we got into the fire. Gainer said the fire fighters did a good job, but had some reservations about how quickly the department was able to round up man power to fight the blaze. We had only six fire fighters on three trucks when they first got there Gainer said. That's not enough men to handle that kind of equipment in a fire like this.
We need to have more men out here in a hurry he said. We tried getting every off duty man we could find after calling all the on duty ones. After that we called Vienna for help. Gainer said Williamstown and Belpre came shortly after that I just don't like the man power situation Gainer said. We've had cuts in the department. I think we've got two or three council members who should be out here on this type of fire and see what we have to deal with. Gainer said fire fighters were able to gain control of the fire at about 3:45 p. m. although fire fighters stayed on the scene for several more hours. We still had to knock down the smaller area's watch for hot spots and clean up our area he said.
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