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Summersville Salvation Army store burns

SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. -- Capt. Robert Barber stood outside of what remained of the Salvation Army thrift store and church in Summersville on Friday. An early morning blaze, although short-lived, completely destroyed everything inside and blackened out the storefront windows with a thick layer of ash.

For those connected to the store, this fire is eerily similar to an arson that occurred there almost a year ago. Police said they had investigated 22 other arsons committed around Nicholas County in February of 2012.

Everything had been quiet since police arrested two men in connection to those fires.

Shortly after 2 a.m. Friday, firefighters received a call about a structure fire at the Salvation Army store at 731 Broad St. The Summersville Fire Department is a few yards away and Assistant Fire Chief Jared Cruse said it only took a few minutes to arrive and contain the blaze. If there had been any delay, he said, the quickly escalating fire would have engulfed the entire building.

"Our cash register is now just a pile of melted plastic," Capt. Barber said. "The hands of a clock on the wall melted and stopped exactly at 2:24 a.m."

Barber said the fire began at a wooden door leading into a room where donated items are sorted and stored.

Cruse said he wouldn't comment on whether the blaze is considered suspicious or not, but said state fire marshals are expected to arrive sometime Saturday to investigate.

Barber said he believes Friday morning's fire is suspicious because it began at the same spot -- and at the same door -- where an intentionally set blaze began on Feb. 24, 2012.

During a 24-hour timeframe that day, firefighters and police responded to three other arsons.

Summersville Police Detective T.A. Blake said Nicholas Coty Stover and Austin Lee Cox, both 21 and from Craigsville, were charged in connection to several of those arsons. Both men are on home confinement while awaiting trial.

Summersville Police Chief John Nowak said it's too early to tell if Friday's blaze was someone's handiwork or simply an accident, such as from faulty electrical wiring.

Residents' nerves had calmed down since the arsons last year, he said. Many who stopped to look at the damage to the Salvation Army store said the blaze stirred up fear in them again. They wondered if this would turn into another string of fires.

Salvation Army Sgt. Shirley Henning and her husband, Lenny, recently retired as the Summersville directors. Shirley Henning said she started the thrift store 14 years ago after seeing a need in the community.

"Our motto was 'Soup, Soap and Salvation,'" she said.

Every week, a small congregation would meet upstairs for church services.

Barber, who also manages the Salvation Army building in Beckley, said he's looking for a temporary spot around Summersville to hold church services and sell or give away clothing and food. He rents the building and is waiting to see if the owners will pay to have it repaired.

He said the store had just received a $4,000 donation of food, hygiene products and diapers. All of that was lost to the fire. Clothing and toys inside either completely melted or caught fire. A once-white piano in the chapel is now black.

Barber said it's a miracle that no one was injured.

Anyone wishing to make donations can reach the Salvation Army in Beckley by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY or by visiting www.salvationarmyusa.org.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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