WESTMINSTER — Fire officials have decided not to file criminal charges against a Main Street businessman who investigators say ignored fire regulations.
Fire officials cited William Stem, owner of Stem's Used Furniture and Appliances at 16 W. Main St., with several fire code violationsfour months before the building was destroyed by fire Nov. 17.
After the five-alarm blaze, fire officials and the State's Attorney's Office said charges against Stem for failing to make the modifications ordered by the fire marshal were possible.
On Friday, Deputy State Fire Marshal Al Ward said Stem will not be charged.
"We felt that, at this point, nothing would be gained by charging him because it is well after the fact," said Ward.
Any liability in the case would have to be assessed in civil courts, Ward said.
Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman said he believed there was not enough evidence to charge Stem.
"From my standpoint, most of the evidence that could be gained was destroyed in the fire," he said.
Hickman said he believed the loss caused by the Main Street fire would deter other business owners from ignoring fire code citations.
Stem had been cited for several violations, including refinishing furniturein a workroom that was not fireproof, lacked ventilation and had improper storage facilities.
He also was ordered to install explosion-proof motors on all power equipment in the shop.
Stem denied violating any fire regulations and said he had made all the changes ordered by the fire marshal in July.
But fire officials said they foundevidence at the scene that not all of the required modifications hadbeen made.
Fire officials never returned to the shop after they sent Stem a July 23 letter ordering him to stop using the workshop.
Deputy State Fire Marshal Bob Thomas said his office is not requiredby law to follow up citations unless an additional complaint is filed.
Thomas said Stem was instructed to send the fire marshal a planto bring the workshop up to code before making any repairs.
He said that because no plan was submitted, the fire marshal's office believed Stem was no longer refinishing furniture in the workshop.
Thefire began in Stem's workshop, then spread to Heagy's Sport Shop, which is in the same building, fire investigators said.
The fire burned out of control for almost five hours, fueled by more than 10,000 square feet of furniture, stripping and refinishing chemicals and ammunition from Heagy's.
Damage from the five-alarm blaze was estimated at $500,000.
Potts & Callahan, a Baltimore construction company, began demolition of the building Monday.
Demolition is expected to last another week, said Westminster City Police, and not affect traffic on Main Street or Winters Alley.