Mayor: Fire devastates Harpers Ferry's commercial area

AP News
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Posted: Jul 23, 2015 12:52 PM

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. (AP) — The commercial area in historic Harpers Ferry was devastated early Thursday when a fire destroyed a building that housed at least a half dozen businesses, Mayor Gregory Vaughn said.

He said a long building that extended from one street to another and held seven or eight businesses was destroyed and an adjacent restaurant sustained substantial damage. No one was injured, he said.

The buildings were constructed in the 1800s.

"I am totally grief-stricken for our community and for the shop and property owners affected by this terrible tragedy. I am, however, thankful that no one was injured," Vaughn said.

The commercial area is adjacent to Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, which closed its historic lower town district because firefighters were using water from the district's fire hydrants to battle the fire, said Dennis Frye, the park's historian. The district includes museums and exhibits.

Frye said the rest of the park remained open and alternative programming was being provided for visitors at other sites.

Vaughn said the commercial area near the park draws tens of thousands of visitors annually.

He said he was notified of the fire around 4:30 a.m. The cause and monetary damage have not been determined.

"This is devastating for Harpers Ferry, one of the most historic towns in the U.S.," Vaughn said. "It's a national treasure."

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the state will provide whatever assistance it can to help the town recover and to restore the buildings.

"Today's news about the fire in Harpers Ferry is heartbreaking for our state, the community and those who call it home," Tomblin said in a statement.

Harpers Ferry sits on a peninsula at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle. The town was the site of a failed raid on a federal arsenal in 1859 by abolitionist John Brown. The attack raised public tensions before the Civil War. During the Civil War, Harpers Ferry changed hands eight times between 1861 and 1865.

Most of Harpers Ferry became part of the National Park Service in 1944.