LOCK HAVEN - As the smell of smoke still lingered on the corner of Grove and East Church streets Friday morning, the devastation to the Lock Haven Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1630 building by a fire throughout the early hours of Friday was clear.
The VFW has been diminished to a burnt structure, with gaping holes piercing through what used to be the roof and walls.
The fire began around 11:28 p.m. Thursday.
Firefighters monitor a blaze Thursday night at the Lock Haven Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
The community stood still while people watched multiple fire departments battle the smoke and fire.
Lock Haven Fire Chief Norman Wolform said the cause of the fire still is under investigation.
"The fire marshal was here and he couldn't determine (how the fire started) at this time," Wolform said.
Whether or not the fire will be deemed suspicious is also still under investigation, Wolform said.
As of press time, it remains undetermined if the fire began on the first or second floor of the VFW. The first floor is a bar and social hall, the second floor houses VFW offices, and both are ruined.
"It's a total loss," Wolform said of the building.
Wolform said the building's value is estimated at $250,000, and the contents lost were valued at $150,000.
No injuries were reported in the incident, Wolform confirmed.
The devastating fire brought communities together in the effort to save a building that provides services to area veterans.
"We had 12 departments from three counties respond," Wolform said.
Those fire departments included Woolrich, Avis, Jersey Shore Tower 3, Jersey Shore Rescue 45, City of Lock Haven, Lock Haven Rescue, Mill Hall, Flemington, Dunnstown, Beech Creek, Salona and Milesburg. An engine rescue from Alpha in State College also assisted, Wolform said.
An engine and a ladder truck were still at the scene until about 10 a.m. yesterday, ensuring all hotspots were out, Wolform said.
Wayne Litz Jr., the incoming commander for Post 1630, said the building is insured.
"We got what we could out of it," he said, adding that the biggest worry, at first, was whether or not the two safes could be retrieved. Fortunately, both were recovered, Litz said. But much of the other contents of the building can never be replaced.
"We lost a lot of memorabilia in there," he said.
Post 1630 is named after World War I veteran Bland J. Rossman, and the VFW contained a sort of memorial for Rossman.
No one was in building, reportedly, at the time of the blaze.
Three people had just closed up the VFW bar around 11:15 p.m. Thursday, Litz said. VFW Senior Vice Commander Mike Baldwin, his wife and the bartender had just done their usual walk-through and locked up, and hadn't seen or smelled anything, Litz said.
Then, they left.
Not long after, the alarm system at the VFW notified the communications center of a potential fire.
Litz said he heard the news and arrived at the scene around 11:45 p.m.
"The first thing I thought was my wife was lying," Litz said of the moment he first heard the news. Then, he said, he kept thinking "when are we going to wake up from it... It's like a bad dream."
The administrators of the VFW are committed to continuing to serve veterans of Lock Haven and Clinton County.
The plan, as of now, Litz said, is for the regular Wednesday meetings to continue to take place, but at the Lock Haven American Legion Post 131 at 20 S. Grove St.
"We're going to keep our post running... keep our chapter up," he said, though he admits he is not sure where the organization will relocate.
The plan is to contact the insurance company and see what the options are, he said.
"We want to keep it (the post) in Lock Haven because the post has been in Lock Haven since 1938," he said.
Also located on the second floor of the VFW were the supplies for Artpost Awareness. Over the winter, local artist and veteran George Stefanski lead a group of veterans through Phase I of the "art outpost" he designed himself to help veterans express themselves through the artistic process. Veterans were able to put emotions, thoughts and their outlooks into two-dimensional and three-dimensional form with brushes, drawing pencils, canvasses and blank masks waiting to be decorated.
Stefanski worries that much of those art supplies - about $2,000 worth - may have been lost to the fire. However, he remains upbeat about the fact that he still has some supplies.
He was already looking for an alternative meeting place, he said, one that didn't involve stairs. Participants have taken a break for summer, but the program might start up again later in the year, he said.