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HFD battling downtown fire, and threat of high winds from incoming storm

Jul. 27, 2014 @ 12:23 PM

HUNTINGTON — The Huntington Fire Department and volunteer crews from several local departments are battling a defensive fire in downtown Huntington.

 A fire started in the upper floors of the six-floor historic Morris Building, which houses several offices, about 10 residents and two popular ground-floor restaurants  — Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar and The Peddler, both owned by Drew Hetzer.

 Everyone safely got out of the building confirmed Gordon Merry, Cabell County EMS director.


The Morris Building, located on the southwest corner of 4th Avenue and 9th Street Plaza, was built originally as the Farr Hotel by John Farr, a Huntington coal operator and building supply dealer. Farr was instrumental in developing and incorporating Central City - which now is known as West Huntington - in 1893.

What's not generally known is that the structure was intended to have 14 floors. But old files in The Herald-Dispatch's library indicate that as construction costs soared during World War I, the building was halted at the seventh floor.

Several years later, the hotel was renamed the Governor Cabell - after William H. Cabell, governor of Virginia from 1805 to 1808, for whom also Cabell County was named. It was closed in 1965 and served for the next four years as a residential facility for the Huntington Women's Job Corps Center. During that time, it was known as Cabell Hall.

The West Virginia Grand Lodge International Order of Odd Fellows sold the building to Helen Morris, widow of the late real estate broker R. Taylor Morris, in 1972. Known for a while as the 401 Building, it was remodeled to feature offices and apartments. For several years, the building was the downtown headquarters for Foard-Harwood Shoes.

Two popular local restaurants -- Backyard Pizza and The Peddler -- are currently on the first floor

The fire was reported about 9 a.m. Sunday.

Backyard Pizza manager Oliver Bailey said he was making breakfast and heard a bang, like a transformer exploding.

Bailey ran up to the 5th, 6th and 7th floors to alert residents to get out of the building.

According to reports from the scene, the roof has collapsed on the 4th Avenue side of the building. Also, the fire is beginning to spread to other buildings.

There are no reports of anyone being trapped. One firefighter was injured around noon, but the extent of injuries has not been released.

Fire departments battling the fire include Huntington, Barboursville, Green Valley, Ceredo and Ohio River Road. Cabell and Lavalette EMS are also on the scene.

 By 11:15 a.m., ladder trucks from Huntington and Barboursville departments were taken down because of the threat of an approaching storm threatening 50 mph winds and hail.

Crews were monitoring the approaching storm and trying to contain the fire to the historic Morris Building, which is located at 845 Fourth Ave., Huntington.

 The Huntington Police Department has closed sections of 4th Avenue, between 8th and 10th streets, as well as that part of 5th Avenue, as ladder trucks are staged at all angles and alleys of the building to fight the fire.

 A Huntington firefighter said the fire has completely destroyed the rolled tar roof and that they were currently trying to keep the fire from jumping into adjacent buildings, such as the building that houses Hibachi on the first floor.

 Check back with the Herald-Dispatch for more breaking news on the fire.