Frager’s Hardware on Pennsylvania Avenue has been the place to go for nails, paints and tools since the 1920. But now it is mostly rubble.
It is still unclear what sparked this blaze other than an employee noticed a fire in the rear receiving area of the store. When owner John Weintraub went out back with a fire extinguisher, it was pitch black with thick smoke.
Weintraub says he will rebuild and plans to take care of his 60+ employees.
Just after 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in a receiving area just off 11th Street, someone noticed smoke and called for help.
"A customer ran up the stairs and [said] your receivings [are] on fire and we went back there and saw all the smoke,” said Melinda Hunter, head cashier at the store. “Everybody started running trying to get fire extinguishers. I ran up front and called 911.”
"It was in the outside area, and it just went very quickly, and the fire extinguisher didn't work,” said Weintraub.
Four alarms meant 200 firefighters with multiple trucks and engines pouring water on a 1920s structure with all sorts of flammables inside.
It is a place beloved by residents on the Hill.
"They are always very helpful here,” said customer Chet Halleck. “And yeah, it’s not a big box store. You are a person here. You’re not just a number and they’re always willing to help folks out.”
As Thursday morning turned to noon and the embers stopped burning, people turned out by the dozens to see their store reduced to soot and broken glass.
“They know things, they can help you, you know the personnel, everybody has a charge,” said Susan Jacobs, another Frager’s customer. “What can you say? It makes you feel like you are in a small town in 1942.”
As soon as it was safe to enter the building, fire investigators began scouring the buildings for anything that might lead them to the cause. For a good part of the day, they concentrated in the area off 11th Street where witnesses say the blaze began.
In addition to the structures that make up Frager’s, two brick row houses sustained significant damage as well.
Now, all Weintraub wants to do is get the cleanup under way.
"The outpouring from the community has been wonderful, and yes, everybody I think is rooting for us,” he said.
The Capitol Hill Community Foundation is working to help raise money for Frager’s Hardware.
The restaurant Matchbox also held interviews for employees and neighbors affected by the fire and in need of temporary work.
D.C. police have reopened the eastbound lanes on Pennsylvania Ave from 9th to 11th Streets.