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Four-Alarm Fire Destroys Beloved Capitol Hill Hardware Store

Owner Pledges to Re-Open, Community Offers Support

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The fire destroyed the 90-year-old hardware store on Pennsylvania Avenue SE.
WAMU/Armando Trull
The fire destroyed the 90-year-old hardware store on Pennsylvania Avenue SE.

D.C. firefighters battled a four-alarm fire at Frager's hardware store on Capitol Hill on Wednesday evening, with some 200 firefighters working to extinguish a blaze that produced a heavy plume of smoke visible from across the city. The fire, which was largely contained by 9:30 p.m., destroyed the beloved institution.

Crews arrived at the store around 6:40 p.m. after a fire had been reported in the receiving deparment. It eventually spread to three buildings that make up the store's primary hardware section, garden center, paint store, and tool-rental center. At the height of the fire, said fire officials, 50 pieces of equipment were pouring over 20,000 gallons of water a minute on the fire.

Heavy smoke poured from the buildings, engulfing Capitol Hill and visible as far away as Tenleytown and National Airport in Virginia, as seen in this video.

No injuries among staff were reported, though three firefighters received minor injuries. One family in a house next to the store was not able to return, and received assistance from the Red Cross. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said he worried the store would be a total loss, and firefighters on Thursday waited to enter the shell of a building to investigate what caused the fire.

Frager's served customers on Capitol Hill for over 90 years, and settled at its current location at 1115 Pennsylvania Avenue SE in 1931. It was purchased by John Weintraub and former co-owner Ed Copenhaver in 1975 from its original owner, a Russian-born worker at the Navy Yard.

Over the years other Capitol Hill institutions have been felled by fire, including Eastern Market's South Hall, The Argonaut on H Street NE and the Tune Inn on Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Over Twitter and Facebook, residents pledged to help rebuild the beloved hardware store.

"Frager's Hardware is such an important part of the lives of everyone on the Hill and beyond. Please let us know what we can do to help the staff through what I'm sure will be a difficult times ahead. Eastern Market recovered, The Tune Inn recovered, and we know you will too!", said Will Robinson in a Facebook posting.

On the Hill East listserv, Fred Hermann, vice-president of operations for the Matchbox food group that has a restaurant on nearby Barracks Row, offered Frager's employees temporary work on Thursday between 2 and 5 p.m.

In a statement, Wells said that the store would be rebuilt.

“Frager’s Hardware is a D.C. landmark and an absolute gem to the Capitol Hill community. The owner John Weintraub and former co-owner Ed Copenhaver have always given back so much to the community. This fire may present a set-back, but I can say with confidence that this community and our city will rally behind Frager's and its employees. My office will be working with the store, neighbors and community organizations to help put together a coordinated response effort. I want to thank our Firefighters and emergency responders for their efforts to contain and put out the fire," he said.

Mayor Vince Gray appeared at the scene and spoke to the media, calling the loss of the store "painful." But in good news, on Thursday Weintraub said that he would seek to re-open the store, and that insurance would help cover his next payroll for his 65 employees. Still, fundraising efforts were underway to help with costs not covered by insurance.

Pennsylvania Avenue was closed between Eighth and 14th Streets SE as firefighters battled the blaze, and police advised residents to avoid the area. Gray said that closures could remain in effect on eastbound lanes through Thursday's morning commute. The D.C. Department of Transportation said that 11th and 12th Streets SE northbound would also be closed at G Street, as would E Street SE at 10th Street.

During the fire, officials also warned residents near the fire to close their windows and avoid any prolonged exposure to the smoke, according to a message from the Alert D.C. system: "Residents of Capitol Hill, Lincoln Park, Hill East, and Near Southeast neighborhoods who are near the fire at 11th & Pennsylvania Ave SE: The DC Government is recommending that you remain inside your homes with the air conditioning on, but the windows closed, as prolonged exposure to smoke from the fire could potentially be hazardous to your health."


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