Firefighters from Frederick, Loudoun and Washington counties helped fight the blaze.
On Thursday afternoon, Martha Ehlman stood in the Harpers Ferry MARC station parking lot, where she stared across the street at the gutted remains of her “baby,” the fair-trade jewelry store she ran for the past five years. As if Ehlman were a widow in a receiving line, friends and customers approached her one by one, offering hugs and condolences.
“We’ve very devastated,” one woman said.
“We know how valuable these businesses are to the community,” said another, handing Ehlman a blue envelope marked “peace” containing prayer flags.
In a large black bin next to her were the 100 or so items – among 7,000 in her stock – that survived the blaze and were recovered by firefighters. Propped against the container was a blackened sign speckled with melted plastic.
Thursday morning’s three-alarm fire tore through the center of a cozy commercial district, ripping up a sloping hill through three buildings that contained two apartments and at least eight businesses.
The cause is still under investigation, according to West Virginia assistant state fire marshal Jason Baltic. He said he hopes his team knows something by Friday.
A video that showed the fire streaking up a lengthy outdoor stairwell had spurred rumors among townspeople here.
“We’re looking at it,” Baltic said of the video, reiterating that it was too early to determine anything.
No one was harmed, but Charlma Quarles – who was spending the night in the District when the fire started – lost her cats, Mylo and Chai.
Her eyes glassy, she stood in the street beneath her apartment and said that, essentially, she had lost everything.
“I have what I have on,” she said, motioning to her gray dress and brown boots.
The scene had become a spectacle for tourists in this historic town. They stopped to take pictures and offer their sympathy.
“Keep enjoying our wonderful town, sir,” a local man, his voice strained, said to a passing visitor.
Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.