Fire guts historic building, hurts business

Local investigators and federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives walk to the scene of a fire at the Strong Oaks Workshop on North Royal Avenue in Front Royal on Monday to perform their investigation. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – A fire not only destroyed an historic building in town this weekend but also likely hurt a growing, nationally known business.

An “active investigation” continues into the blaze that left much of the building at 1858 N. Royal Ave. in charred ruins, Warren County Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico said at the scene Monday. It might take a few more days for investigators to determine the cause and origin of the fire, Maiatico said.

“It’s still a very active and ongoing investigation and certainly if anybody knows anything they can contact us and we’d be happy to discuss it with them,” Maiatico said. “As far as the investigation goes, there’s really not a whole lot to say other than it’s a very complex scene due to the severity of the damage and the size of the building.”

Firefighting crews from the county and the immediate area responded to the blaze after emergency dispatchers received the call around 10:30 p.m. Saturday. It took crews about four hours to bring the blaze under control and another 14 hours to extinguish the fire, Maiatico said. Flames flared up at the site Monday early afternoon and Maiatico commented that firefighters likely would need to keep watch over the remains for a while.

The fire gutted the two-story, mostly stone-and-wood structure that housed The Strong Oaks Woodshop. The business makes furniture out of wood reclaimed from old barns and other structures. The fire also damaged two accessory buildings and seven nearby vehicles. Investigators have an idea where the blaze started and plan to focus on that area of what’s left of the building, Maiatico said.

An ATF agent stands inside a doorway of the Strong Oaks Workshop on North Royal Avenue in Front Royal on Monday. A fire destroyed the business on Saturday night. Rich Cooley/Daily

Firefighters prevented the blaze from reaching Wayne’s Auto Repair roughly 15 feet from the woodworking building that burned. Crews had to work to keep the fire from spreading to the trees near the building. The fire also threatened four large propane tanks at the rear of the building used by the business for metal fabrication, Maiatico said. The business also had tanks for welding torches and chemicals used in its operations. Investigators are looking into whether or not any tanks exploded before or during the fire, Maiatico said.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also aided fire officials with the investigation, Maiatico said.

“We’re not looking at anything out of the ordinary,” Maiatico said. “It’s just they have some resources, some electrical engineers that are able to provide assistance to narrow things down.”

Warren County real estate records list A. Fox LLC as the owner of the property identified as 1858 N. Royal Ave., though Strong Oaks Woodshop’s address is 1868 N. Royal Ave. Fork District Supervisor Archie Fox also owns the adjacent property identified in the records as 2002 N. Royal Ave. Fox did not return a call Monday for comment.

Michael and John Schmiedicke own the business that employs more than a dozen workers. John Schmiedicke, who was staying in an apartment on the property, discovered the fire, Maiatico said. Woodshop employee Terry Bryson said Monday as he cleaned up the site that he left work around 5:30 p.m. Saturday but returned around 10:30 p.m. when John Schmiedicke called him and said the fire had started. Bryson recalled seeing flames rise 30-40 feet into the air during the blaze.

Bryson spoke highly of the Schmiedickes.

“I’ve seen ’em weld all night long to get a job out the next morning,” Bryson said. “They’ll rebuild. Just a matter of where.”

Bryson estimated the main building was constructed in the late 1700s. Historical information on the property was not available Monday.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com