By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
WHITE HALL —
A section of the Middletown Mall was evacuated shortly after noon Saturday because of a fire in a large refuse receptacle next to the main entrance of the shopping center.
Thick black smoke billowed from the receptacle, as bright red flames shot up high enough to be visible from Route 250.
Walkers, lunch-goers and flea market vendors and shoppers were asked to leave the center part of the mall as pungent smoke was pushed inside by a driving wind.
One of the mall maintenance workers, who declined to identified, said he had just left the mall.
“About four minutes later, I got a phone call from my boss, who was in Morgantown, that there was a fire.
“From the time I left to when I got back was maybe five minutes later, tops, and it was already rolling,” he said.
“I’d heard several rumors (about the cause) but I don’t want to speculate until they find out more,” he said.
The protocol of handling a fire “depends on the severity,” he said.
“First we try to get the flames down and if necessary, evacuate the people.
“They did but not because of the flames, but because of the smoke that came in when the wind changed.
“Everyone has gotten out who should have,” he said.
“At this time, the fire appears to have been accidental, possibly caused by a cigarette being tossed,” said White Hall Police officer Cliff VanPelt.
“That’s what preliminary information indicates.”
He confirmed that a male had been detained and placed in the back seat of a White Hall cruiser.
“He’s not under arrest. He’s being detained for another reason not related to the fire.”
That man was shortly released from custody.
VanPelt said the mall evacuation was “just a precautionary measure.”
“There was a flea market and walkers near the center of the mall, where the smoke was going in from the high wind. We didn’t want anyone to be in danger from the smoke.
“And since the fire was so close to the building, they sent additional fire department units in case something catches, they’d have the manpower on scene to handle it.”
He praised the firefighters for their quick response.
“Valley is a great department. Any time we need them, they’re right on the ball.”
He said he was just about a half mile away when the call was toned in by Marion County 911 dispatch.
“It was fully involved when I got here. It may have been smoldering for a while and finally flared up.”
There were no injuries.
The receptacle was filled with lumber and other materials taken from a site being renovated for a new business, said Freddie McDonald, assistant chief, Pleasant Valley Volunteer Fire Department.
“I had not heard anything yet about what started the fire. Right now, it’s under investigation.”
Units from Valley, Monongah, Boothsville and Winfield volunteer fire departments, Marion County Rescue Squad, White Hall Police and Marion County Sheriff’s Department responded.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.