Vacant house fire is considered suspicious

by Kate Evans

Firefighters battle a fire in a vacant house on Eckerd Lane in Berkeley Springs on January 7.
photo by Zachary Sipe

Firefighters responded to a fire in a vacant house in Berkeley Springs on Tuesday, January 7 that is considered suspicious. Responders dealt with snowy and icy road conditions as they battled the blaze. The house was a total loss, said Berkeley Springs Volunteer Fire Company Assistant Chief Chris Sipe.

A Berkeley Springs Volunteer Fire Company press release said that the box call was sounded at 4:02 p.m. on January 7 for the 500 block of Eckerd Lane. The first firefighters responded at 4:05 p.m. and while en route dispatchers told them that a caller reported black smoke and what looked like a house on fire. A later call from an area homeowner said it was a controlled burn.

Assistant Chief Chris Sipe continued the box assignment as a precaution with the conflicting reports. He also asked responding units to reduce their speed due to poor road conditions and the nearby homeowner’s report.

Berkeley Springs Volunteer Fire Company Lieutenant Zachary Sipe and Wagon 1 arrived on scene at 4:27 p.m. and reported a working house fire. He requested all units to continue to the fire scene and asked for only two of the responding fire engines and a medic unit for more manpower and to limit resources on snow-covered roads.

Firefighters from Wagon 1 began suppressing the fire and made a great initial knockdown of the fire as more manpower arrived, according to their press release. Berkeley Springs Volunteer Fire Company Tanker 1 supplied them with water but then couldn’t re-cross the Eckerd Lane bridge to get more water as the road was a solid sheet of ice.

Hedgesville Volunteer Fire Company Tanker 30 backed onto the bridge and was able to refill Tanker 1 which returned to the fire scene and kept supplying water.

Fire and rescue units that responded to the fire scene were Berkeley Springs, Great Cacapon, South Morgan, Hancock and Hedgesville Volunteer Fire Companies and Morgan County Emergency Medical Services. Orleans Volunteer Fire Company was diverted to standby at the Berkeley Springs fire station.

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and the West Virginia Division of Highways responded to the scene. The Division of Natural Resources was notified because of the reported illegal controlled burn and the Division of Highways for the snow-covered roads, said Assistant Chief Chris Sipe.

Firefighters were on the scene for around three and a half hours. There were no injuries to civilians or firefighters. Sipe said that no other structures or wooded areas were involved in the fire.

Their press release said that the fire scene was turned over to the Division of Natural Resources who referred the case to the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office because of its suspicious nature. Assistant State Fire Marshal George Harms said he would be investigating the fire scene on Monday, January 13.

Harms said Monday evening that their office has concluded their fire scene investigation and that they are working with the Division of Natural Resources to further the investigation.

The Berkeley Springs Volunteer Fire Company returned to the scene for a rekindle and noted on its Facebook page that there was debris burning down in a crawlspace that couldn’t be reached without machinery. The fire was contained in the crawlspace with no chance of it spreading outside the concrete walls.