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Fire guts ground level store at Majestic, but hotel itself saved

(Oct. 25, 2013) An intense fire last Friday afternoon threatened one of downtown Ocean City’s landmark hotels, but was able to be contained to the ground floor where it originated.

The Ocean City Fire Department, along with backup from the Berlin, Ocean Pines, and Bethany Beach departments, responded to the Majestic Hotel at Seventh Street and the Boardwalk around 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct, 18.

The Majestic had been boarded up for the winter months, but plumes of smoke were seen emanating from the first floor of the structure.

The fire appeared to have started in the northeast corner of the building’s ground level, which sits below the elevation of the Boardwalk and contains a convenience store. Although the flames were quickly brought under control, the store was gutted.

“It’s a 100 percent loss. There’s absolutely nothing left in the store,” said Will Savage, who owns the shop along with his wife. Savage also manages the hotel itself on behalf of his parents, the building’s long-time owners.

Fortunately, responders were able to contain the space in which it apparently started. But thick smoke spread throughout the rest of the building, causing further damage. A second store – a sunglass shop also owned by Savage – had all of its merchandise ruined.

“Even though the store itself appeared to have minimal damage, that one is going to be a total loss, too,” he said. “Sunglasses manufacturers are very protective of their brands. They don’t allow discounting, and they’ll certainly not allow me to move a product that has smoke damage.”

For several hours after the ground level fire had been cleared, personnel were still using tower trucks to un-board the hotel’s upper floors for ventilation. Savage is currently working on if, and how, the hotel will replace furnishings and mattresses inundated with smoke.

“That’s going to be an ongoing issue with the insurance company,” he said.

However, the Majestic’s structure appears to be intact due to the hotel’s historic construction.

“These buildings were built back in the day to be washed out, before the seawall was there,” Savage said. None of the internal walls on the first floor are load-bearing, having been built with the expectation that they would give way during a storm surge.

“The drop ceiling and the drywall were incinerated, but as long as the fire doesn’t get a good hold, which it didn’t thanks to the response from the fire department, the basic structure is pretty bullet-proof,” Savage said.

Incidentally, Savage himself is an Assistant Chief with the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company, although he was out of town at the time of the fire.

“I was really shocked, and really impressed, that the department was able to contain the fire to the unit of origin,” he said.

Savage said he plans to have all three establishments – the hotel, as well as both stores – rebuilt and operating as normal by the summer of 2014.

Only one person, a maintenance worker, was believed to be on site at the time, according to a release from the town. One fire cadet suffered minor injuries during the operation and was treated at the scene.

The Ocean City Fire Marshal is investigating the incident and has not yet determined the cause of the fire.

Ocean City Fire Department personnel work to ventilate the Majestic Hotel after fire gutted the ground-level store, spreading smoke through the historic structure.

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