Rattled historic Ellicott City merchants and residents are looking for ideas to prevent fires after a $500,000 blaze destroyed a 120-year-old furniture warehouse on Main Street -- the second fire in a little more than two weeks.
"Basically it's going to be, 'How do we stop fires in Ellicott City?' " said Barry Gibson, president of the Ellicott City Business Association.
Gibson said he plans to ask county fire officials to come to a town meeting to talk to store owners and residents about preventive fire measures. A three-alarm blaze Thursday night leveled Taylor's Furniture warehouse at Old Columbia Pike and Main Street, behind the post office.
Deputy State Fire Marshal Bob Thomas said it was going to be hard to determine the cause of the fire because the damage was so great.
"It will probably be a week or more before we can determinea cause due to the total destruction and total collapse of the building," he said.
What is left of the three-story warehouse is a rubble of charred wood on top of Tiber River, a small creek.
Although the warehouse is gone, the retail store of Taylor's Furniture -- at the 8100 block of Main Street -- is still open. "We're still in business," said Manny Eisenstadt, vice president of Taylor's Furniture. "Welost the warehouse, but we're still in business 100 percent."
He said furniture manufacturers who heard about the fire had called and said they would be sending new merchandise soon.
Thursday's fire in the historic town followed another serious blaze on Feb. 19, when atwo-alarm fire heavily damaged Ellicott's Country Store and the Heirlooms Too antique shop, located across the street from Taylor's Furniture. The $200,000 fire -- ruled an arson by the state fire marshal --also damaged two apartments. No arrests have been made.
After this second fire, owners and merchants say they are afraid. "We're definitely very concerned about the fires around here," said Dorothea Yates, who's operated a hardware and a grocery store for more than 50 years. Her store was about 25 feet from the warehouse.
"It gives you a very uneasy feeling," she said.
Other store owners suspect a pattern in the fires. "Two big fires like that?" asked Joan Higgs, ownerof Sweet Rememberings Doll Hospital on the 8200 block of Main Street. "I would not believe it's accidental. It's too much of a coincidence."
Higgs said she was not sure how store owners would be able to prevent future fires. "I don't know what else we will do," she said. "We do have fire alarms, but who's going to hear them at night?"
The 30-by-50 foot warehouse was packed with wooden furniture, bedding and sofas. Previously, it had been a stable, a funeral home and a cardealership until Taylor's Furniture took it over several years ago.
Witnesses who saw the fire said it was an enormous blaze. "The flames shot up a good 100 feet," said Bob McCauley, a locksmith who lives over Yates hardware and groceries stores on the 8200 block of Main Street. "It was high flames and a lot of smoke."
"There was just billows of smoke everywhere," said Nancy Gibson, co-owner of Forget-Me-Not Factory on the 8000 block of Main Street and Barry Gibson's wife. "I could smell it two blocks away. Everywhere I looked at that building -- we walked all the way around -- everywhere I saw flames."
"When you opened the door and you saw the fire was just rolling, there was no way you could have saved it," McCauley said.