Blaze Wipes Out Route 50 Offices

BERLIN – Within days of
a destructive fire, two businesses displaced by the Saturday afternoon blaze
were in operation elsewhere and plans to rebuild were underway.

Five West Ocean City
businesses sustained damages in various severities by the fire that occurred at
4:13 p.m. at the Purnell Center located on Route 50. Two offices, home to
Merrill Lynch and Jennifer A. Lynch, PC, were completely destroyed by the fire,
while the others received damage from heat, smoke and water.

According to the
Worcester County Fire Marshal’s Office, firefighters from various local
municipalities from Worcester, Wicomico and Sussex counties were on the scene
for more than five hours on Saturday.

The Fire Marshal’s
Office could not estimate an exact dollar damage, but it’s expected to exceed
$1 million. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

While the probe
continues, property owner Purnell Rentals, Inc. appears to be looking ahead,
securing demolition permits and planning to rebuild the portion of building
destroyed by the fire. Landowner Troy Purnell said the former offices of
Jennifer A. Lynch, PC, where the fire reportedly began, and Merrill Lynch will
be razed as soon as today.

“They are the only two
we are going to have to demolish. So about half of the building will need to be
demolished. We’ve got permits to demolish and will have plans to rebuild to the
county next week,” Purnell said.

Purnell said he learned
about the blaze while on vacation through a text message photo on his phone.

“I was in the Bahamas
and received a photo of it on my Blackberry,” Purnell said Wednesday. “It’s not
the kind of thing you want to hear about while on vacation.”
Purnell said he immediately took a short walk and approached his insurance
agent.

“I immediately ran down
the dock to my insurance agent Reese Cropper, who was there too, and said I
have a claim to submit,” Purnell said. “He immediately jumped on the phone,
started right from there and I was back the next morning.”

Purnell said the three
businesses not destroyed by the fire should be back in operation on premise
within the next week.

“We should have the
remaining businesses back in by the end of next week, beginning of the
following at the latest,” Purnell said. “There was not a whole lot of damage to
the west of Jenny’s office. Basically, we’re looking good over there.”

Reached this week, the
displaced businesses were in a surprisingly upbeat mood, considering the extent
of the damages and the fact they were forced to relocate their operations
immediately.

Merrill
Lynch Resident Director Christine Selzer said her assistant, Andrea Agosta, was
working in the office on Saturday on a telephone service upgrade project when
the fire erupted.

“It was
a 10-hour work site, and she was sitting at her desk and noticed ashes outside.
She went in the back to our conference room and opened the doors and there was
a huge engulfing flame that was coming out of Jenny’s office. She closed the
doors and ran out, of course,” Selzer said. “She called me immediately. By the
time I had gotten there, it didn’t look like the flames had gotten to my office
yet, but it had in the back. The fire marshal told me it started in Jenny’s
office and traveled from there.”

Selzer
was able to enter the building later on Saturday and secure key information as
well as personal keepsakes.

“Once
they put the fire out Saturday night, I was able to retrieve a lot of my
financial advisors’ diplomas, pictures and things like that. A lot was melted
but I could retrieve most things along with of course our hard drives,” Selzer
said. “I was able to pull out all of our client documents, which were in 16
fireproof cabinets. Nothing happened to client data. No information was
compromised in any way.”

Selzer,
who also serves as a wealth management advisor, said she immediately went to
work trying to figure out how to get her office employees to work on Monday
morning.

“It’s a
devastating thing, but we have all bounced forward and are getting things
done,” said Selzer

Selzer
said the office’s 10 employees have been deployed to the company’s various
other offices in the area and will work at those workstations until
reconstruction is complete.

“We are
definitely moving back to our office. Right now, all of our financial advisors
are in a spot and they are comfortable. We love that location. We have every
intention of going back there,” Selzer said. “George and Troy Purnell have been
phenomenal working with us and making sure all is as good as can be expected.”

Jennifer A. Lynch, PC
has already secured a new temporary office at the Pavilions off Route 589.
Lynch said Selzer called her on Saturday at about 4:20 p.m. to alert her of the
fire. She had just moved into her new digs at the Purnell Center from the
Berlin Shopping Center two weeks ago.

“Christine called me and
it had just started. I kept thinking, ‘no no’, but as soon as I hit Route 50, I
saw the smoke and I knew,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure nobody was in
the building and that everyone was safe. That can’t be replaced.”

Lynch confirmed she
would be returning to her West Ocean City location once it’s cleared for use
again.

“I will be moving back
as soon as Troy has occupancy,” she said. “I had just moved in on April 30. I
just moved there. I had just put the nails in the wall for the pictures on that
Friday.”

Although she did have to
buy all new office furniture and other required incidentals, Lynch was relieved
to know she all her data backed up elsewhere. She said she is the “poster
child” for backing up computers.

“We have a data backup.
There’s been little interruption in business,” she said. “Unfortunately, we
lost all our tangible stuff. It’s just a matter of setting up shop again. We
lost all our personal effects and personal property. Things in filing cabinets
were salvageable. All electronics were gone.”

Land
records show the property was purchased for $180,000 in 2004 with the primary
structure built in 2004. As of Jan. 1, 2010, the property was valued at $2
million, according to the State Department of Assessments and Taxation.

 

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