Plan would address fire damage

The Baltimore Sun

The owner of a downtown Mount Airy building consumed in an blaze early Sunday announced plans last night to establish a temporary office park for the six destroyed Main Street businesses and several others that were damaged.

Rob Scranton, who had renovated the 1930s-era Bohn Building, said trailers could be installed in the downtown parking lot as soon as next week by the same company that offered similar support to the town of La Plata after a tornado in 2002.

"There's a lot of work to do in the coming days, months and into the next year," Scranton said at an emergency meeting convened at Mount Airy Town Hall. "I can't change what happened. I can only look forward."

Residents and business owners gathered for a report on the three-alarm fire, which caused at least $4 million in damage and required 1.8 million gallons of water to put out.

Mount Airy officials also brought up potential infrastructure improvements, including rerouting power lines underground and widening municipal water lines.

Crisscrossing overhead electric, telephone and cable wires delayed steel-ladder fire trucks' approach to the fire until Allegheny Power disconnected the lines, Mayor Frank Johnson said.

Firefighters dispatched about 4:15 a.m. had to wait until Allegheny Power disconnected the live wires about 6 a.m. before they could position themselves directly in front of the two main buildings affected by the blaze, fire officials said.

"It did hamper us as far as getting set up," Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dale Lowman said. "We really had to be careful."

Johnson said the lines might be more safely relocated underground, but that would require several million dollars as well as tearing up both sides of Main Street.

Rerouting utility wires, for aesthetic reasons, had been talked about for 20 years, but now it has become more a safety issue, Johnson said.

Six businesses and apartments housing 14 people were destroyed, town officials said. Another four or five stores, including a candy counter and a baby gift shop, sustained heavy water and smoke damage, town planner Kelly Ziad said.

Firefighters trucked in 1.1 million gallons of water from nearby Prospect Pond and pumped 700,000 gallons of town water to fight the blaze. But the town's 6-inch water mains limited the rate at which the firefighters could pump water, Johnson said. As the town is renovated, perhaps 8-inch, 10-inch or 12-inch mains could be installed, he said.

Johnson said Mount Airy officials would also study how the historic sections of Ellicott City and Annapolis have been rebuilt after fires.

"We know it's going to take some funding and support," Johnson said.

The fire was sparked in Laurienzo's Brick Oven Cafe in the Watkins Building at 200 S. Main St., the state fire marshal's office said. Although the 24-hour oven was vented, enough heat escaped into the walls of the restaurant's 1924 building to ignite its wooden frame, the fire marshal's office said.

The Watkins building was severely damaged, and town officials fear that it could require demolition, they said last night.

A third building, which suffered severe smoke and water damage, will remain closed for extensive renovations. That building houses the Olde Town Restaurant, a popular spot that acquired new management several months ago, and apartments upstairs.

To rebuild the stretch of downtown, Johnson said Mount Airy would seek grants from the state Department of Housing and Community Development and support from Carroll and Frederick counties. The town straddles the Carroll-Frederick line.

Meanwhile, events scheduled in downtown Mount Airy will proceed as planned.

A regular Second Saturday event, which brings residents downtown monthly to shop, will be held Saturday, Ziad said. And she said the revived downtown farmers' market will continue Wednesday afternoons through Sept. 26.

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