5 businesses lost to fire, downtown Oakland jolted

February 15, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

A charred brick wall and the damaged remains of a Chinese restaurant were among the few signs yesterday that century-old buildings once stood along South Second Street in downtown Oakland.

The five-alarm blaze Sunday that destroyed five businesses and left 11 people homeless has dealt some serious blows to the long-standing efforts of community leaders to revitalize the Garrett County seat.

"We've worked hard the past five years or so to revitalize the downtown business area," Oakland Mayor Asa McCain said yesterday. "This was the last historic business strip in the community, and it's always sad when something like that is destroyed."

Efforts to spruce up Oakland, which has a population of about 1,700, have included the renovation of a former car dealership into a municipal building, design improvements for a bridge under renovation and the purchase of property for a park.

Bob Thomas, deputy chief fire marshal for Maryland, said yesterday that the cause of the blaze remained under investigation and that fire officials were expected to return to the scene today. He said investigators think the fire began accidentally in the Chinese restaurant, "but we still have some work to do."

Nearly 100 firefighters from Maryland and West Virginia battled the blaze for about three hours Sunday morning before it was brought under control. Damage was estimated at more than $1 million.

Volunteers worked through Sunday night and early yesterday to remove rubble from the fire site, from 123 to 127 S. Second St., Mr. McCain said.

"Our first concern was safety," he said. "So many communities around us have had fires and [the rubble] sits there for years. We had a chance to clean it up, and we did."

Oakland officials were already looking to the future.

"The key now is to get businesses back in that area," the mayor said. "We're interested in re-establishing businesses there."

Among the businesses lost besides the Chinese restaurant were a longtime insurance office, an office supply store and a pair of beauty salons. Mr. McCain said other Oakland businesses have offered space to the businesses that were burned out. He said city officials are talking to the state government about securing low-interest loans to help businesses re-establish themselves and to cover the costs of clearing the fire site.

One owner of a destroyed building said he had no plans to rebuild.

"I'm not going to fool with rebuilding," said Marvin Jones of Hagerstown. "It's a sad, sad situation. People being homeless is the saddest part. It's a blessing nobody got hurt."

The displaced residents -- from three apartments above the businesses -- were staying with friends or relatives.

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