Mid-Atlantic damage estimated at $1 million

Cause of five-alarm fire under investigation
April 27, 2014

Story Location:
Lewes  Delaware  19958
United States

Doctors and employees of the Mid-Atlantic Family Practice regrouped April 25 after a five-alarm fire destroyed the Route 24 facility a day earlier.

"We're thankful everyone got out safely and no one was hurt," said Gregory Bahtiarian, a physician with the practice.

The fire started at about 3:45 p.m. at the Route 24 facility and took a few minutes to engulf the building, he said.

"We knew something caught fire in a mulch pile. By the time I went out with a fire extinguisher the whole wall was on fire," Bahtiarian said.

Employee Allison Funds said she was one of the first to see the fire. She said she tried to douse the fire with water, but the fire spread quickly to the building. When the windows started breaking, employees knew it was out of control.

"There was some rumbling going on, and I got on the intercom yelling at the three girls upstairs to get down," she said.

There were about 30 people in the building at the time of the fire - patients in rooms waiting to be seen as well as some in the waiting room, she said.

"I went through twice to make sure there were no patients left," Funds said.

Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Harry Miller said he is still reviewing information gathered after the blaze caused an estimated $1 million in damages.

"It's not a cut-and-dried cigarette fire," he said. "I need to do follow-up and see if it backs up a cigarette theory."

Miller said he intends to interview witnesses a second time, because often stories change from the first interview. "People are upset when you first interview them, but then they calm down and you may get more information," he said.

"I have to reinterview before I have a theory on how it started," he said.

Heavy winds and dry conditions surely stoked the fire that engulfed the medical building in heavy smoke and flames, Miller said. Billowing smoke could be seen as far away as Route 1.

Several tankers arrived at the scene to help extinguish the flames, and a line was also run from a nearby retention pond, Miller said. As more firefighters arrived, hoses were run about a quarter mile away to fire hydrants down Route 24, he said.

Staff and patients were safely evacuated; one firefighter was treated at Beebe Healthcare April 24 for what Lewes Fire Company Public Information Officer Glenn Marshall said was a broken foot.

The offices of Mid-Atlantic Family Practice in Lewes and Millsboro are both closed today. The practice includes doctors Bahtiarian, Jeffrey J. Heckert, Mark A. Sordi, Carmelo DiSalvo and Cathrine O. DeLuca. Nurse practitioner Helen A. Merrick and physician's assistant Aaron R. Block also work at the Lewes office.

The morning after the fire, crews were on hand boarding up windows and working to salvage items from the debris. Bahtiarian said the practice lost computers and servers, but thankfully information is backed up at other locations.

He said the practice will relocate to Millsboro until they can rebuild at the Route 24 location.

The practice operates a facility in Millsboro, and some staff will work out of that office while others will see patients at a temporary site across the street, he said. Phone lines will be transferred to the Millsboro office so Lewes patients can still use the Lewes office number, Bahtiarian said.

Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Company was the first to respond to the scene, quickly joined by Lewes Fire Department and Indian River Volunteer Fire Company as well as Milton Volunteer Fire Department, Georgetown Volunteer Fire Company and Millsboro Fire Company. Also responding were Dagsboro, Bethany Beach, Slaughter Beach, Gumboro and Roxana fire companies. Sussex Emergency Operations Center officials said a total of 15 fire companies were on the scene or on standby for companies that were battling the fire.