"There goes everything we had," Vince Horton said yesterday as he watched fire investigators sift through the charred remains of the American Rescue Workers warehouse in Prince George's County, where he has worked for the past two years.
Horton, 59, is one of about 15 men who worked at the Capitol Heights warehouse, which was destroyed Thursday by a three-alarm blaze. The building was part of a 20-acre complex that included a dormitory and is operated by the American Rescue Workers, a national charitable organization that runs eight second-hand stores in the Washington area. The warehouse served as a storage and work area for the goods to be delivered to the stores.
Tony DeStefano, a spokesman for the County fire department said yesterday that investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire.
Like many of the men who work and live at the complex, Horton was employed while undergoing rehabilitation for alcohol-related problems. But in addition to earning room and board, Horton said that his work gave him "a sense of pride and self-worth," and now he is concerned about the future.
Horton's concern was echoed by several of his coworkers yesterday afternoon as they found themselves with idle time after being accustomed to working six days a week.
"I decided to come here so I would have something to do and I could feel worthwhile," said Morris Johnson, 30, who was recently released from an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center in Prince George's County. Johnson said that now that there is no work for him to do he has become "depressed and anxious."
Johnson, who rode trucks that stocked the various thrift stores, said that his job provided him with a change of scenery and prevented him from "feeling locked-in."
Officials with the American Rescue Workers also expressed concern about getting the complex back in working order, especially since much of the damage was not covered by insurance. According to Paul Martin, the chapter's director, the warehouse was worth $1.5 million, but was insured for only $170,000. Maj. Donna Harris, an administrator with the local chapter, estimated that the uninsured contents of the building were worth $60,000.
The warehouse stored items ranging from electrical appliances to furniture and mattresses. While many of the items were in need of repair, others were surplus supplies used to stock the eight thrift stores, Harris said.
In addition to the financial problems, Harris said she is concerned about the morale of the workers. "We certainly understand the depression and the key will be to make sure that depression doesn't hold."
The workers expressed optimism about the rebuilding of the warehouse. "These things happen and you feel lost but you just have to hope for the best," said Don Clements, 61, a nine-year employe. "Hopefully we won't have too much extra time on our hands and we will be able to get back to work soon."