The cause of a Friday morning fire on Gettysburg’s Chambersburg Street that damaged four structures has not yet been determined, according to the Gettysburg Borough manager – despite reports that the blaze has been ruled arson.
“The chief (Joseph Dougherty) told me the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco has completed their investigation but a cause has not yet been determined. We are all going to meet tomorrow (Monday) and will issue a release as soon as we find out,” Florence Ford said Sunday evening.
Gettysburg Mayor William Troxell echoed Ford’s remarks and both were baffled by an article in Sunday’s Hanover Evening Sun that stated Gettysburg Police Officer William Gonzales said Saturday that officials ruled the fire arson. The article also said police were looking for three white teenage males in conjunction with the incident.
Gettysburg Borough Police Chief Joseph Dougherty did not return a call Sunday seeking comment on remarks reportedly made by his patrolman.
Gettysburg Borough Patrolman First Class William Orth faxed a press release to the Times asking “anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Bevenour or PFC Orth with information regarding this incident. CrimeStoppers is offering a reward with information that leads to an arrest in this case.”
The Bureau is investigating the fire in conjunction with the police department because it started at a Civil War chapel owned by the United States Christian Commission, Ford said. Fires are usually investigated by Adams County or Pennsylvania State Police fire marshals. Investigators were at the scene Saturday, sorting through the rubble.
Jacob Schindel, co-owner of the Ragged Edge Coffee House, which was also heavily damaged in the blaze, said Sunday evening he also has not been informed of a determined cause other than what has been published in several newspapers, websites and television stations. The story quoting Gonzales was distributed by the Associated Press Sunday.
“I think the media is being too quick to jump all over this and rule it arson. I am not going to venture a guess until I hear it from investigators,” Schindel said.
The Ragged Edge, a private residence, the chapel, and another building owned by the Adams Rescue Mission were damaged when a fire started in the chapel at 3:37 a.m., Friday. It quickly spread to the other buildings.
The Liberty Institute, which represents the United States Christian Coalition, issued a press release late Saturday evening also claiming that the fire had been ruled arson.
“Just a day after the Gettysburg Log Chapel, a reconstructed Civil War Chapel, burned to the ground, federal officials have confirmed that the fire was caused by arson. Authorities are now reportedly looking for three young men in connection with the fire,” the release stated.
When asked, Jennifer Grisham of the Liberty Institute said by phone Sunday that neither the Institute nor the Coalition learned of the arson ruling from investigators.
“The source we got it from was the Hanover Evening Sun AP reports,” Grisham said.
The chapel also plans to rebuild, according the press release. Donations may be made at www.savethecivilwarchapel.com.
Hiram Sasser, one of Wega’s lawyers, would not comment when asked about what appeared to be a drum, such as one used to carry oil, that was found at the scene. He also would not comment when asked if extension cords were used to deliver electricity to the chapel.
“We will wait for the official investigation report to come out,” he said.
Schindel said he is focusing his attention on rebuilding the Ragged Edge. The stock room, located in the rear of the restaurant, was completely destroyed as well as much of the shop’s art gallery, called “The Finer Edge.” Local knitter Morgan Neivich had just finished a display in “The Finer Edge” that was to premier Friday evening, in conjunction with Gettysburg’s First Friday events.
“We thought it would be cool to do since it is cold outside,” Schindel said.
Most of his employees will be forced to find other sources of income while he rebuilds. Some will be able to work at the Ragged Edge’s two satellite locations in Cumberland Township, at the YWCA Gettysburg & Adams County on Fairfield Road and Harrisburg Area Community College’s Gettysburg Campus on Old Harrisburg Road. Both locations are open to the public and patrons do not need to utilize HACC or the YWCA.
“It may be a little rough because we lost all of our stock but we are going to be open mornings and evenings at both places,” Schindel said.
The Ragged Edge was damaged by fire in 2004. Schindel said it took him eleven months to rebuild after that fire, and he hopes this effort goes much more quickly.
“Ironically, Friday was the sixth anniversary of our re-opening after the last fire,” Schindel said.
The Rev. Bruce Dietrick, of the Adams County Rescue Mission, said Sunday the six families that were living in the mission’s apartment building are currently staying in a hotel being paid for with funds provided by the York Adams Chapter of the American Red Cross.
“The Red Cross only pays for five days so after that it is up to the Mission, and it is going to be a long time,” Dietrick said.
He said the one of the apartment building’s residents woke up shortly before the blaze and alerted everyone else.
“She said she heard ‘wake up, wake up.’ She attributes that to the Lord Jesus Christ telling her to wake up,” Dietrick said.
The building, known as the Agape House, recently received an approximately $100,000 upgrade. Dietrick said the electric and plumbing systems were upgraded and an interconnected smoke alarm system was installed.
“That smoke alarm system paid for itself. It saved lives,” he said.
Dietrick has not received a damage estimate. He added residents’ personal property was also either destroyed or sustained heavy smoke damage. Dietrick said a fund has been established to help rebuild the Agape House and anyone wishing to donate can send contributions to Adams County Rescue Mission, 2515 York Road, Gettysburg, PA 17325. He asked that “Fire Fund” be written in the memo line of checks so the Mission knows where to allocate the donations.
Dietrick said he was erroneously quoted in Saturday’s Times as having said “When I saw it (the fire), I thought, ‘This is exactly what they (borough officials) were complaining about ... that it (the chapel) was not up to code.’”
“I loved that chapel and have attended services there,” he said Sunday. “It was one of the most photographed places in town and, in my opinion, one of the greatest attractions in town.”
The chapel closed for the season on Nov. 21. However, the U.S. Christian Commission was issued an order to vacate in mid-November because Gettysburg Borough officials said the chapel had not been brought into compliance with state and federal mandated codes.
The chapel opened in 2006 and services were held under a tent. Earlier this year, the wooden structure was built and then-Interim Borough Manager Peter Marshall said it was built without permits and did not meet international code.
Earlier this year, it received the Gettysburg Adams Chamber of Commerce’s annual beautification award.
The house at 116 Chambersburg Street, was unoccupied and posted for sale when Friday’s fire erupted. It was also damaged in the 2004 fire and has existed since before the Civil War. Attempts made to contact the owners of that building were unsuccessful.
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