County issues update on fire-damaged building

By Randy Bartley

Staff Writer

CLARION

The Clarion County Board of Commissioners Sept. 10 unanimously adopted an emergency declaration for the building that houses the county's probation department and District Court 18-3-01.

A Sept. 5 fire damaged the building at 22 North Sixth Avenue.

Clarion County Commissioner Ted Tharan said the cause of the fire appears to be a cigarette that was placed in a plastic container outside the building. He added the state police fire marshal is still investigating and has not made an official ruling on the cause of the fire.

The declaration said the damage was sufficient to require "immediate restoration and repair work."

Tharan said the reason the need was immediate was to protect the property from further exposure and damage and to remove dangerous conditions created by the fire.

Those conditions include exposed electrical wires.

The county contracted with Service Master for the clean-up work.

Tharan said the fire destroyed the whole front entryway, both public bathrooms, the waiting room for both the court and probation and all of the hallways inside the foyer.

"The fire was so intense that it just blew out the front doors," he said. "It melted the aluminum frames."

The main part of the fire was contained in the foyer and the public areas.

"The probation department will hopefully, be in operation by the end of the week by using the rear door," said Tharan. "New door buzzers and cameras have been installed by our IT department."

Tharan said the front entry would probably not be operational for two to three months because of the damage.

"We just don't know the full extent of the damage," he said. "Service Master is currently taking out all dry wall and all of the insulation. The smoke went through the entire building because when the heat went up the thermostats came on and it just sucked all that black smoke through the entire building."

The entire building has to be cleaned and all of the insulation removed.

"Anything soft has to come out because it absorbs that smoke smell," said Tharan. "The smoke did more damage than the fire or the water."

In addition, the wiring has to be checked and both bathrooms have to be completely re-done.

"There is an intense amount of work to be done," said Tharan.

He said the loss is covered by insurance.

"We have been in contact with two companies to replace the front doors. It takes so long to have the plate glass and frames ordered. That will expedite that process," he said. "The fire departments did a fantastic job in getting the fire out as hot as it was burning."

The commissioners thanked the first responders, the Clarion and Limestone fire departments, EMA, Clarion Hospital, Clarion Borough Police Department, Clarion University Police Department and the state police fire marshal.

"Chad Johnson and his IT department did a great job in transitioning everyone with their computers and phones," said Tharan. "The maintenance crew stayed there overnight after the fire to be sure the fire didn't re-kindle. The next day it did re-kindle but they found it and put it out. That was a Godsend to have them there."

It could have been worse.

"The steel doors have a one-hour rating and the fire companies had the fire out within a half-hour. If we had not used the steel doors the fire would have spread into the court and the probation offices," said Tharan.

Meanwhile, both the court and the probation department had to be moved.

"The probation department is working out of the second floor of the courthouse and the courts are working out of Tim Shill's courtroom in Shippenville," said Tharan. "Everyone was very cooperative."

Tharan said the county has an ordinance in place that prohibits smoking within 40 feet of the doorway of a public building.

"We did not put that container there. Probation put it there because some of their clients use it. I think in the future it should be moved 40 feet away down to where the borough trash can is located," said Tharan. "I don't want to see another one of the smoking things next to a building.

"I am sure we will be re-evaluating the county's policy on smoking."