ELIZABETH'S INFERNO: 2006 - "Notes From A Fireman's Diary," Historic Roberts Store Burns


(Photos by Adam Nicolais)

This past week (2006) the town of Elizabeth was changed by the match of arsonists that destroyed the historic Robert's Store and other buildings during the early morning hours (See earlier Hur Herald Story)


By Amber Long, June, 2006
Elizabeth WV

Written as if from a fireman's diary:

Today was a simple day like every other day. I went to work, came home and had supper. The family and I sat down and watched the news.

Then I tucked the kids in bed for a nights sleep. Nothing out of the ordinary happened in the little town of Elizabeth where I live.

Let me tell you a little about this small place that many call a one horse town. There are two gas stations, an auto parts store, a barber shop, two little restaurants, and a grocery store.

All of them have been around since I don't know when.

Of course you have your usual banks and court house. Really small though. No stop lights, just a couple of stop signs that have been knocked down by kids out for a night of fun.

Most of the time they are hanging out in their cars in front of the stores after hours talking and discussing their party place for the night.

As I tucked my kids in their bed the way I always do at 10:30 I never thought anything about it.

I am a volunteer at the fire department here and on some occasions we get a call at night to a car fire. Nothing phenomenal, just the usual. Little did I know the history of my small town would change forever that night.

I remember falling asleep around midnight or so and I was sleeping good when the tones went off. Now you have to understand, we have to see if the tones are medical for EMS or fire for us.

Then I heard the voice and words that ring in my ear, "Central to station 90, report to your station for a structure fire at Robert's Store."

At that moment fear and adrenaline launched me to my feet and out the door in a blur. I don't even remember getting dressed.

It has been the fire department's worse fear for years that this store would go up in smoke. The corner store has several old stores adjoining it.

This particular store has been standing on the corner for 125 years or so, family owned and was in the fourth generation of Roberts family.

I was in my truck with the fears running through my head, along with the history of the building.

I could see the fire from the station and the sweat was rolling. The firemen knew this fire was too big for us, and we needed to call for help.

As we grabbed our radios, the worse thing that could happen, happened. Radio contact was gone. Finally we got in touch with central, and told them to send back up.

The fire station was only a block away, and yet it seemed like a 12 mile drive. The heat was unbearable and the store was engulfed in flames and smoke. The electric poles were on fire and the transformers were spewing sparks everywhere.

People were already standing around with the look of horror on their face. They knew this was one of the oldest buildings in this small town and all they could do was watch it go.

The Deputy Sheriff was watching two nearby buildings, the Sheriff and another guy tried to get what they could out of a structure housing E-911 maps just two buildings down.

"Everyone out," he called just as the structure of Robert's Store fell into a heap of wood and metal.

The heat from the fire was taking it's toll on the fire fighters. Four counties and 70 to 80 fire fighters showed up to assist us. They started spraying the rubble that fell into the road to keep it from spreading to the bank across the street.

The rest of us got as close as we could to the fire to keep the tanks and fertilizer from going up.

At 5:00 a.m. the building was on the ground.

Heat and exhaustion was getting to many of the firemen as sweat poured down their faces and the soot, smoke, and ashes flew everywhere, but we all stood together to fight this terrible fire.

As the fire was brought under control, people began to speak of their memories of the long-lived store - a family business, a living for employees, things that could only be found there, the hardwood floors and the smell of the oil, and the antiques that could never be replaced.

But most talked about the friendly faces and people that helped customers, anytime day or night.

Then the word spread the fire could have started by an arsonist. "Who in their right mind would do something so vicious to this small town?," people asked.

Others wondered how this town will ever be the same, the store will never be there again, forever missed.

(Photos by Lois Marks)