Blaze rips through Burton Bros.

By Lynn R. Parks and Tony E. Windsor

At 8:30 Tuesday morning, Ronnie Marvel had been awake for more than 24 hours. A volunteer with the Seaford Volunteer Fire Department, he first learned that the hardware store that he and his brother, Ric, own was on fire when he was sitting at home and heard the call for firefighters over the scanner.

A downtown Seaford landmark, the Burton Brothers Hardware store was fully involved and as many as nine area fire departments were called to the scene of the blaze. As emergency vehicles pulled into place along High Street, and nearby intersections to access the fire, citizens joined them en masse. The Royal Farms convenience store parking lot, Gateway Park, the City of Seaford municipal parking lot and any open space near and along High, Front and Market streets were filled with onlookers, many capturing the scene on their phone cameras. Smoke was thick and made for hazardous driving as far away as Pine and Arch streets.

Firefighters in aerial trucks poured water onto the roof of the hardware store as other fighters scrambled up ladders at windows along three positions on the eastside of the building, trying desperately to contain the fully involved blaze. At the same time attention was being paid closely to the Thompson apartment building just a few feet from the fire.

At about 10 p.m. a group of emergency workers scrambled to the east side of the building and returned a short time later with a gurney, wheeling fellow firefighter, and store co-owner, Ric Marvel, to an awaiting ambulance after he suffered serious smoke inhalation while fighting the fire.

From 9:15 p.m. Monday evening until 1:30 a.m., Tuesday morning, Ron Marvel was at the scene, battling the blaze on the store's second story. He then went to Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, where Ric was being treated for smoke inhalation. At 6:30 Tuesday morning, when Ric was transferred to the burn treatment center at the Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, Pa., Ronnie returned to the High Street store.

"My biggest concern is getting back up enough that we can fulfill the promises we have made," Marvel said, standing in the lobby of George, Miles and Buhr Engineering across the street from the damaged Burton Bros. building. "We have appliances to deliver and I want to make sure that we can do that."

After that, Marvel said, he isn't sure what will happen to the 120-year-old building, or the business that it houses. "It will depend on what the structure's like," he said. "I have to talk with the insurance company and with the city and see what they say about the structure."

On Tuesday morning firefighters remained at the Burton Brothers building, pumping out the thousands of gallons of water that was still lying in the basement of the structure from the firefighting efforts the night before. Volunteers could be seen coming out of the rear door of the building cradling boxes of store merchandise that was trying to be salvaged from the fire and water ravaged building.

City of Seaford building inspector Josh Littleton inspected the building early Tuesday morning and said that the biggest concern was debris falling from the roof.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Randy Lee was on the scene, as part of the official investigation into the cause of the fire. "Right now we can't say what the cause was, but we are confident it originated on the second floor of the building," he said. "We are looking at burn patterns as a means to determine the point of origin. We will release information about the cause of the fire as soon as we have it."

Lee explained that by looking at the second floor windows in the front of the building, there is a difference in burn patterns between the first and second windows at the far east of the building, and the patterns that exist near the nearby windows as you look toward the west front of the building.

He said given the intense heat during the fire and the immense amounts of water that was used to fight the fire, the building held up extremely well.

"There are portions of the floor on the second floor that when walking on them they are solid," he said. "This building was built in 1893 and back then when they said a piece of wood was a two-by-four, they meant it was a two-by-four. The wood used to build this structure can hold up to the heat of a fire a lot longer than the wood being used today. If this building had been built modern, we would be standing in the basement looking up at nothing wondering how this fire started."

The first floor of the building suffered water damage, but according to Lee, held up very well.

"They apply oil to those hardwood floors that was helpful in keeping the floors from buckling for the most part," he said. "Some parts of the floor buckled, but most of it did not. They had some very old items on the first floor, like the vintage calendars that hung on the wall. Hopefully they can salvage some of those items; I hope so anyway."

Lee could not put an official monetary value on the damage the fire caused to the building as of Monday morning. He said that would be determined by the insurance company. He did say there are a lot of things to consider when dealing with a structure as old as the Burton Brothers store. He said it would not be impossible to consider that fire and water damage alone could be in excess of $500,000. "You couldn't rebuild a building like this for that kind of money," he said. Lee also credits the excellent job of the area firefighters for helping to keep the damage to the building from being worse than it is.

The Burton Brothers building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been in continuous operation since it was built in 1893.

Cathie Dickerson, who works in the George, Miles and Buhr office, has a clear view of the hardware store from the office's front lobby. "It's horrible," she said. Her husband, Donnie, a Seaford native, remembers going in the store with his grandfather. "And now, he has been taking our grandson into the store with him," she said. "It's just sad to look across the street and see it looking like this now."

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