Firefighters worked throughout the day Friday and may work through the weekend to clear debris and steel beams at 1010 S. Main St. in Mount Airy after a two-alarm fire destroyed much of the commercial building.
The origin and cause of the fire likely can’t be determined until that work is done, according to Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal Bruce Bouch.
No injuries were reported in the blaze, which began around 2 p.m. Thursday at the former site of the Warfield Chevrolet dealership and Dennis Kitchens and Bath.
The Office of the State Fire Marshal is conducting a joint investigation with the Frederick County fire marshal’s office.
Bouch said firefighters used heavy equipment most of Friday to move steel beams in order to gain access to the building. During the fire, the roof and several walls collapsed, protecting the fire from water and prolonging the blaze, he said.
Bouch said they have made contact with the owner of the building, Zbynek “Frank” Omelka, but he is currently on a cruise ship with his family and is unavailable to look over the property with them. Bouch said a cadaver dog was brought in as a precaution Friday, but no bodies were found.
The building was being used as a storage area for Omelka’s business Royal Sign & Service LLC. The business is registered to Zuzana Omelkova, of Damascus.
Omelka purchased the property at 1010 S. Main St. in 2011 for $160,000, according to Maryland property tax records, with designs on opening a sign-making business in the building that had been vacant for years. The building was last assessed in 2016 at $188,800, tax records show.
However, Omelka soon learned that, despite the building last operating as Dennis Kitchens and Bath and having been used for commercial purposes since it was built in 1935, the property was zoned residential and a pre-existing noncomforming commercial use had expired.
Mount Airy Town Planner Kelly Ziad told the Times in 2012 that Dennis Kitchens and Bath was approved as a nonconforming use and because it was already in operation when the town began exercising zoning laws in the early 1970s. Because the state prohibits spot zoning and the building was located in a residential area, Mount Airy couldn’t change the zoning to commercial for a single property and a special exception would not have allowed for a sign-making business.
From 2012 to 2013, three separate ordinances designed to try to allow Omelka use the property for commercial business — including a special exception for a business to work in a residential area, a text amendment allowing nonconforming use exceptions to expire after five years rather than one year, and another that would’ve designated and allowed historic buildings to continue to be used for business, despite being located in residential neighborhoods — went before the Town Council and failed.
Wayne Carter contributed to this article.