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Cause of Elks fire 'undetermined'

by Matt Harvey

ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR

CLARKSBURG -- The city fire department's investigator said he cannot determine the origin of Saturday's fire that destroyed the landmark downtown Elks Lodge, Chief Joe Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez anticipates the state Fire Marshal's Office probably will confirm that finding when an investigator from the state agency arrives today. "It will remain (of undetermined origin)," Gonzalez predicted. "Because of the degree of burn, everything is gone."

Gonzalez also said firefighters have no reason to believe the fire had been set. For one thing, firefighters found the doors locked, Gonzalez said. Also, the building had old wiring in it, he pointed out. And it appears the fire took time to develop; Gonzalez said a number of witnesses saw smoke as much as an hour before firefighters arrived but thought it might have been from a chimney.

Meanwhile, plans to tear down the nearly 100-year-old Elks Lodge and repair the Masonic Lodge next door are well under way, Gonzalez said.

For example, the Elks already have applied for a demolition permit. Gonzalez anticipated it would be granted this morning. Also, Mountain View Environmental Services Inc. of Mount Clare had cordoned off a wide area around the destroyed building Monday and was "making everything ready so demolition can get under way," Gonzalez said.

Workers already have started to repair the Masonic Lodge, Gonzalez said.

"Everybody has stepped up to the plate," the chief said.

Mark Wilt, Elks trustee, said the fraternal organization now is focused on demolition and hasn't begun formal discussions about what might be next for the property. Those talks likely will begin today; the Elks have a regular meeting this evening at their current location in Village Square Conference Center.

It also was unclear Monday evening how much the Elks' insurance company would pay, Wilt said.

"We're just kind of in shock," Wilt added as he viewed the charred ruins.

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