BRANCHVILLE — The fire that broke out in Branchville Monday around 6:30 p.m. destroyed one of the original Branch Junction buildings used in the annual Raylrode Daze Festivul. Branch Junction is a replica of a western town, where many of the activities of Raylrode Daze are held.
The Red Dog Saloon sustained an estimated $25,000 in damages. The fire also damaged a couple of wagons and train cars of the festival's popular Cal Smoak Special which were in storage. Fortunately, the Cal Smoak Special train engine was not involved in the blaze.
"By the time I arrived, the Saloon was totally engulfed in flames," Branchville Mayor Tim Cooner. A secondary fire in the old freight depot was likely set off by sparks from the initial fire, Cooner said.
"It was really emotional for some people. There are a lot of memories here," he said.
According to the mayor, seven fire trucks from the Branchville, Canaan, Cattle Creek and Rowesville fire departments responded to the blaze.
Cooner said that after meeting with Allen Oakley, Branchville fire chief, and Tom Jennings, chairman of Raylrode Daze Festivul, they are confident there will be plenty of volunteers to help clean up and rebuild. The Branchville Police Department is investigating the incident which appears, at this time, to have been unintentional, officials said.
After the investigation into the cause of the fire, the town will do everything possible to remove the debris, make plans to rebuild and, hopefully, have everything ready by this fall when the Raylrode Daze Festivul rolls around.
"Raylrode Daze has its work cut out between now and opening in September," said Cooner, adding that the fire was not the first and that it was just a minor setback that would be overcome.
Joe Walters of 140 Edwards Street, which is located just behind the Raylrode Daze Festivul's Branch Junction, said he had just sat down to watch the evening news on TV when someone knocked on his door.
"Two frightened little boys were pounding on my door telling me to call 911. They said that there was a fire. It was around 6:32 p.m.," said Walters, one of the original gunfighters who helped build Old Town.
"I was Filthy McDirty," he said, reflecting back to 1969 when the first Raylrode Daze Festivul was held.
"We built the town in 1971. In '70 and '71, there were mostly just merchants and the gunfighters. It was tough falling on the asphalt, so we decided to build a better place to have the fights," Walters said.
"At one time when we had a fire in this town, you'd just ring the fire bell, fire a shotgun into the air, or you'd just run outside and shout 'fire,' and that would start a chain reaction of people passing the word along," the long-time Branchville resident said.
After he called 911, Walters said he went to alert someone locally but could already hear the emergency vehicles on the way. As the blaze roared, Walters said he could hear numerous explosions coming from the old fat-lighter building. The fire trucks started arriving around 6:43 p.m., he said.
"They really did a good job," said Walters' son, Sidney, who noted that all of the volunteer firefighters worked together as a team to get the blaze under control.
Sidney Walters recalled that when he was growing up in Branchville, the town clerk would religiously set off the fire alarm every Friday at noon as a way of checking it.
"I know if anyone is going to be devastated over the loss of that building, it would be (former Branchville police chief) Boone Walters (no relation)," said the younger Walters as he stood in the backyard with his father. gazing at the blackened remains. "He would work in that old town 370 days a week if it was possible."
In his best western drawl, Filthy McDirty (Joe Walters) summed up his feelings about Monday's fire, saying, "We are all sorrowed by the loss of our Red Dog Saloon."