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Harpers Ferry blaze destroys buildings, businesses, homes

Town works to rebuild

July 31, 2015
Toni Milbourne - Chronicle Editor , Shepherdstown Chronicle

Fire ravaged four buildings in the early morning hours Thursday in the historic district of Haprers Ferry. In the aftermath, two apartments were destroyed leaving the residents without homes; eight businesses lost all leaving their employees without jobs; and a small town was left devastated yet somehow insistent on rebuilding.

Alarms were issued at approximately 3:15 a.m. when neighbors in the lower town called to report flames. Business owner John Maxey shared that his alarm company also called the fire department when smoke detectors were going off in his Data Direct, Inc. office space. Response was swift; however, the fire was also swift and moved rapidly despite multiple fire departments responding.

Units were on the scene not only from Jefferson County, but Berkeley County and neighboring Maryland and Virginia companies. Miles of hose ran through the streets of the town as firefighters worked to stop the spread of the fire into other buildings.

Article Photos

Destroyed in the fire, in addition to Data Direct, Inc., were The Vintage Lady, the Village Shop at Harpers Ferry, Sophie and Bailey's, La Niche Boutique, Upstairs Downstairs Sandwich Shop, Tenfold Fair Trade and Private Quinn's Pub. Scoops Ice Cream sustained damage but is reported open for business.

Friendship Fire Company Chief Ronnie Shutts reported that the fire was initially contained to two buildings and that firefighters spent several hours getting the fires under control. Throughout the day Thursday, crews worked to eliminate "hot spots" that tended to re-ignite.

The State Fire Marshal has been on scene in Harpers Ferry and will submit a report within the next few weeks. As of now, there is no official known cause of the fire that has caused an estimated $4 million in total damages.

The fire came at the height of the tourist season and has hit the business owners very hard. Some were under-insured and many employees are seeking jobs to bring in income. Several neighboring businesses were quick to offer jobs to many, especially those in the food service industry.

In addition to those offers of employment, many in the county and beyond have initiat4ed fundraising efforts to assist those who suffered loss in the fire.

Several fundraisers have been scheduled or set up at local banks and online. A link to some of those include:

Renew Harpers Ferry Foundation:

La Niche Boutique:

Sophie & Bailey's:

Tenfold Fair Trade Collection:

Upstairs Downstairs Sandwich Shop:

A benefit concert is scheduled for Aug. 8 at Longshots on Route 340 between Charles Town and Harpers Ferry while a 5K will be held this Saturday, Aug. 1. Many more ways to support can be found on social media.

Town officials in Harpers Ferry have held several meetings to develop an initial plan to re-build. Mayor Greg Vaughn called an emergency town meeting last Saturday to formalize efforts to rebuild after the fire, calling it a disaster that's "much bigger than any crisis this town has faced in a long time." More than 20 town officials from the Harper's Ferry Town Council, planning commission, board of zoning appeals and historic landmarks commission met for more than 90 minutes at Town Hall, setting the framework for subcommittees to address specific needs or concerns throughout the process.

Shop owners who lost their livelihood are rallying to look toward the future; however, they have consistently called for all to remember those who still have businesses in town today. Visitors and shoppers, specifically, are asked to continue frequenting the small town so that the economic effects are as minimal as possible for those still open for business.



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