How the Fire Began and the Future of Frager's
With the fire over, District officials are assessing the damage to Frager's Hardware Store. An investigation into the fire's cause is ongoing.
“I am a fireman not a building engineer but I doubt it can remain. From what I can see the building is bowed in. They will bulldoze it,” stated Sergeant Jeffrey Dickey, a member of the DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department since 1986, standing in the median strip of Pennsylvania Ave. SE.
Outside his devastated business the morning afterward, Frager's owner John Weintraub emphatically stated his intention to rebuild the store.
“There's A Fire In Receiving”
It was a quiet evening at Frager's Hardware last Wednesday. Melanie Leonard, a longtime employee, was just outside the store on Pennsylvania Ave. SE. She smelled smoke. Alarmed, Leonard walked around the corner to the receiving area only to discover huge plumes of billowing black smoke.
“There's a fire in receiving,” she alerted staff over one of the store's famed walkie talkies.
A customer ran from the back of the store yelling that the rear was on fire, recalled Melinda Hunter, a familiar presence behind the Frager's checkout counter for over 16 years. “I ran and got John (Weintraub) and then called 911. John ran in with a fire extinguisher but there were these flames in minutes.”
Staff and customers quickly evacuated the premises.
With the buildings fully ablaze, employee Patrick Somers rushed back inside to check for any remaining employees or customers trapped in the store's labyrinth of corridors and basements. Somers was “the true hero” of the fire, stated Leonard.
Two firefighters stand outside Frager's the morning after the fire. Photo: Andrew Lightman
Andrew “Air Force” Melendy, who has been a Frager's employee since 2009, was on the forklift in the Garden Center when he heard the alarm. Melendy rushed inside. Joining Weintraub, both entered the receiving room engulfed at the time in dangerous toxic black smoke.
“Me and John went into the receiving room, but there was nothing we could do,” Melendy recalled.
The windows of the rental store. Photo: Andrew Lightman
The Capitol Hill Community quickly organized to support its beloved hardware store. Employing www.giveforward.com, an online fund-raising tool, and social media, Julia Christian, a Capitol Hill resident, quickly raised $30,250. The Give Forward fundraiser has now been closed. These contributions are not tax deductible, and subject to a 7% processing fee. The funds will be given directly to Weintraub, Christian has stated on Twitter.
Simultaneously, The Capitol Hill Community Foundation (CHCF), www.capitolhillcommunityfoundation.org, created a special fund for the relief of those impacted by the fire under the rubric “Friends of Frager's.” Donations to this effort are tax deductible. CHCF will distribute the funds in consultation with Frager's, in a manner similar to their successful effort in the wake of the 2007 Eastern Market fire. Visit www.friendsoffragers.org to give.
As many residents on Capitol Hill can attest, Frager's was known for its knowledgeable and helpful staff. The community's charitable efforts are aimed largely at helping Weintraub support his employees during the complicated process of physically rebuilding.
“John will need help. That is what we are here for,” stated Melendy.
“It is not going to be the same Fragers with those bouncy wooden floors and those skinny little aisles. It is devastating,” observed Michelle Newman, owner of neighboring Newman’s Gallery & Custom Frames, echoing what so many are feeling.