Fire destroys shopping center

It's still not known what sparked a fire on Christmas Eve that destroyed an entire shopping center in Pike County.

A pawn shop, beauty shop, Appalachian Wireless store, a Mexican restaurant and some storage areas in the Russell Shopping center in Elkhorn City are all gone.

The building did not have power for several days leading up to the fire, and the owner thinks winter storm damage could have something to do with it.

The owner of Russell Shopping Center, Bill Blankenship, says some downed trees caused power lines to fall on the roof of the building, which might have caused a fire. He also says once they finally got power back last week, there could have been a power surge.

The Elkhorn City Fire Chief says the incident is under investigation, but as for Blankenship, he's just trying to figure out where to go from here.

Bill and his wife have owned Russell Shopping Center for nearly 20 years. When he went to check on the building Christmas Eve morning, something was wrong.

"When I got back there, all I seen kind of towards the roof, or towards the wall--I couldn't tell which one it was--but there was a ball of fire and that's all I could see," Blankenship says.

He was the only one inside and called the fire department immediately. He says as the shopping center burned, it was too much to handle.

"We've been here a long time, and I have good tenants. They're good people, and I just broke down when it happened," he says.

Blankenship says even the stores at this end of the shopping center that don't look that bad on the outside are ruined on the inside. He says he's hoping for the best for the employees that worked here.

"I don't know how the insurance company will handle it for me or what they'll do, but if God blesses us, I'll try to get it all built back," he says.

Those who fought the fire say they also hope Blankenship can re-build.

Elkhorn City Fire Chief John Moore says, "Elkhorn city has lost four businesses, but hopefully, you know, in time they'll be able to re-open eventually, if not here in this particular spot, maybe somewhere else in town."

What destroyed a building, Blankenship says also tore him apart.

"It just destroys you, physically and mentally, it really does," he says.

Blankenship says they do not know the extent of the damage financially yet. He did have insurance.

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