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Late-night fire ravages historic hotel

by on September 13, 2012 7:34 PM

BELLEFONTE — A large crowd gathered near the Centre County Courthouse early Sunday morning and watched in disbelief as the Hotel Do-De, located in the 100 block of East High Street, was ravaged by fire.

Hundreds of Bellefonte residents crowded behind police tape and watched as firefighters battle the blaze, which began at approximately 12:30 a.m. The fire was not under control until 6 a.m.

Most in the crowd just watched silently. Others cried as flames ripped through the roof.

“It's just really sad,” said Anita Mondock of Bellefonte. “We've lost so many great buildings, historic buildings. It's happening too often.”

The cause of the fire has not been determined, according to Bellefonte Fire Department Chief Tim Schreffler.

As of press time, there was no estimate on damage that was done to the old building.

According to Schreffler, the Hotel Do-De suffered extreme fire and water damage. The Garman Theatre is adjacent to the hotel. The theatre suffered fire damage on the top floor and water damage on the bottom floor.

Bellefonte Borough manager Ralph Stewart assessed the damage on Tuesday.

“It's devastating to the borough, to the community and the historic district,” Stewart said. “The Do-De is a total loss. As far as the Garman Theatre is concerned, it's questionable whether it can be salvaged or not.”

Three firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation while fighting the blaze.

The Hotel Do-De is owned by Bill Dann, Sr. He was still in shock on Monday.

“We're just stunned,” he said. “We don't really know which way to go next.”

The Hotel Do-De did not have a sprinkler system. Under state law, new buildings must have have sprinkler systems. The requirements are based on construction materials, building occupancy and size. However, older buildings are often exempt and are not forced to add sprinkler systems to the structures.

According to Stewart, the sprinkler system issue is a double-edged sword.

“It's the cost. It would be very expensive for these property owners to update and renovate. You can make demands, but with the high cost involved, many of them would rather just close up shop and hand you the keys,” he said.

While no residents were injured in the blaze, the fire did displace 27 people. The American Red Cross is assisting those who no longer have a place to stay.

“The Red Cross' mission is to help those residents,” said Virginia Brown, Chapter Executive of the Centre Communities branch of the American Red Cross. “We'll help provide food, a place to stay and if need be, prescription medication. We need to make sure they get on the road to recovery as soon as possible.”

According to Brown, some victims were staying in local hotels. Others have found temporary housing with friends and family.

In addition to the Red Cross, the victims are receiving assistance from Bellefonte's Faith Centre and Housing Transitions, Inc.

“It's really amazing, you're seeing a lot of partnerships being formed and that started right away,” Brown said. “Whenever there is a natural disaster, like a fire, members of the community bond together. A lot of our volunteers know the people involved, so it really hits close to home.”

Stewart said that he was proud of the way the firefighters responded.

“They were quick to respond and did a superb job,” he said. “The crews that battled were from Bellefonte and beyond. We are very thankful.”

(StateCollege.com contributed to this report.)



Chris Morelli is the managing editor of The Centre County Gazette.
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