Grove City Fire Chief Jeff Badger said Sunday that a malfunctioning fan may have caused the fire that burned down the historic Wendell August Forge in Grove City on Saturday afternoon.
The fire started in the spray room, where the products the forge makes are lacquered. Badger said a damage estimate to the 25,000-square-foot landmark was not available over the weekend, but forge president Will Knecht told reporters it could be in the millions.
He said they plan to rebuild the forge as soon as possible, and the stores that sell its goods throughout Pennsylvania and Ohio will remain open.
The fire marshal is no longer investigating, Badger said, and the fire does not appear to have been suspicious.
There were 25 employees and 15 customers in the store when it started burning; all of them made it out unharmed. There were more than 100 firefighters battling the blaze, Badger said.
Ed Hodge, a Wendell August craftsman, said all of the equipment from the forge was destroyed. However, Grove City borough councilman and conservative blogger Rich Talbert wrote on his blog that many of the dies used to engrave pieces metal were saved.
’The dies are hardened-steel designs,’ he said Sunday. ’They would press or hammer that on to the plates or the platter, and that design would be engraved into the steel.’
Talbert explained losing the forge is tragic for the community.
’When one thinks of Grove City, several things come to mind,’ he said. ’Grove City College, the outlet mall (Prime Outlets at Grove City), and Wendell August Forge. People truly look at that as the treasure of the city; it’s something community members have grown to love and appreciate.’
Talbert said that people come from all over the world to visit the forge, and said he hopes the company will move aggressively to have it rebuilt by the Christmas season.
Chris Bulfone, a Wendell August employee, said Sunday that the company was going to give them some idea of how it would proceed this morning.
Thankfully, the Forge wants to stay in Grove City and rebuild at their current location. This is very welcome news - as the Grove City community would most certainly feel the loss of jobs and tourism spending in the area. Not to mention the sheer history of the Forge and the borough...and for history buffs like myself, this is a huge ordeal.
The next part will be for the Forge to address zoning issues, develop new plans, have them approved by the borough Planning Commission, and start building. Let's hope this is a case when bureaucracy doesn't grind along so we can see the Forge rebuilt and jobs for dozens of people restored!