2 people dead following house fire in Elkins

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Two people died in a fire that occurred in a house on River Street, according to a press release from Elkins city officials.

The house had been closed and posted as uninhabitable by city fire and code enforcement officials. Officials also explained that the decedents have not been identified and that the W.Va. State Fire Marshal is investigating.

According to a release, the house had been offered for sale at auction in 2018 for unpaid property taxes but did not sell. The State of West Virginia now holds a lien against the property for the unpaid taxes and associated fees.

Officials explained that this property came to the attention of city officials last year because of a large refuse pile in the backyard and signs of entry and occupation by unauthorized persons. Because there was no water service to the house, it was considered uninhabitable under city code. The front porch was also missing, and the house was in a general and advanced state of disrepair, according to the release.

City Code Enforcement Officer Phil Isner ordered the unauthorized occupants to vacate the premises, requested electrical power be disconnected, and—on June 1, 2020—posted signs on the front and back doors informing that the house had been determined to be unsafe, officials stated. The signs prohibited occupancy until such time as an official finding that the identified hazardous conditions had been corrected.

Elkins officials explained that at the time of the posting, Isner sealed the back door with plywood and screwed the front door shut. He also closed and locked the building’s windows. Isner and Elkins Fire Department Chief Tom Meader included the property on their near-daily rounds monitoring properties of concern, according to the release.

Lacking title to the property or a court order authorizing further steps, the city had at this point exhausted its options for enforcement actions against this property. After the posting, the city offered to redeem the tax lien, take the title of the property, and shoulder the cost of demolishing the decrepit structure, but this offer was declined by the previous owner, officials explained.

According to the release from officials, the Elkins Fire Department responded to the fire and attempted to make an entry, but the building was fully engulfed by the time firefighters arrived.

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