Decisive action by a Pocahontas County Sheriff’s deputy during the November 10 fire in Marlinton likely saved lives.
Just after 2 a.m. on that early Sunday morning, Deputy Brian Shinaberry was conducting a routine patrol in downtown Marlinton, on a late-night shift that would be anything but routine. Driving along Main Street, he passed by the Hudson Variety building.
“I was coming down Main Street about ten after two,” Shinaberry said. “I could smell smoke in front of the building, but I couldn’t see anything. I went around the block and when I pulled into the parking lot by the Municipal Building, I could see smoke pouring out from under the roof of the Hudson building.”
The deputy went to the front of the building, on Main Street, where he saw Kristy Lanier, owner of the Dirt Bean Ohana -the building next door to the burning Hudson building.
“When I went back out front, the lady that lived over the Dirt Bean had come out of her building,” said the deputy. “I could hear her smoke detector going off. That was the only smoke detector, I guess, in the whole block. Nobody had them in the McK Building either, I don’t think.”
Marlinton firefighters reported later that smoke detectors were installed and working in the hallways of the McK Building (also known as the Old Bank Building) – which contained several apartments. But those smoke detectors had not yet activated when Shinaberry decided to evacuate the building.
But first, the deputy warned firefighters about a frightful danger.
“When firefighters pulled in, I told them that there were propane tanks behind the building,” he said. “I was making sure they knew they were there, because you couldn’t really see them from the parking lot.”
The fire was still two buildings away from the McK Building, but the deputy knew that smoke kills faster than fire. In a stroke of good fortune, a McK Building resident found the deputy and offered to let him in the building.
“There was a guy that lived in the McK Building, I had dealt with him earlier,” said Shinaberry. “He was having trouble with people following him through town. He came over to the Municipal Building and offered to let me in. It was a young man, just moved into the building, I can’t remember his name.”
The individual who provided that critical assistance was Elliott Curry, who now lives in the Hillsboro area
Shinaberry went door to door, waking up residents in the building’s six apartments. By the time people were awake and exiting the building, smoke was visible in the hallways.
Destiny Pennington, a Pocahontas County High School freshman, and her boyfriend Caleb Arbogast, a PCHS senior, were in the Pennington’s McK Building apartment, waiting for Destiny’s father to get home from work at Huttonsville Correctional Center.
“We were watching movies and we fell asleep,” said Destiny. “We woke up because Officer Shinaberry pounded on the door. I got up because I thought it was my dad and he forgot his keys. He said, ‘there’s a fire in Hudson’s and there’s smoke and you need to get out.’ We just had time to put our stuff on and just go. I had my pajamas on and I just had time to put on jeans and get my jacket and put on my shoes and go.”
Smoke spread quickly from the intense blaze in the Hudson Building. By 2:30 a.m., less than 30 minutes after Shinaberry evacuated the residents, the McK Building was filled with deadly smoke. The fire and smoke followed hidden channels between the old buildings and soon, all three structures were engulfed in flames.
Destiny and Caleb are both sound sleepers.
“It took about three tries with him knocking on the door,” said Destiny. “I was like, ‘what?’ He was knocking on all the doors to make sure everyone was out. But he knew our family personally and he knew that we were up there.”
“I sleep like a dead person, I was out,” said Caleb.
Caleb considers Shinaberry a lifesaver.
“He definitely saved lives,” he said. “If he wouldn’t have come up there and knocked on the door, like he did, we probably would have never woke up to it. I know he saved our lives.”
“I think he went above and beyond,” she said. “He’s the one who called the fire in. I feel like he was trying to save lives. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have done it. I think he should get an award.”
Destiny’s father, Jerry Pennington, arrived home about 3 a.m. and found his daughter and Caleb on the sidewalk, watching firefighters battle the blaze. The three stood and watched as the historic McK Building – and all the Pennington’s belongings – were consumed by the fire.
“I felt really sad,” said Destiny. “It felt like a dream, like it wasn’t really happening.”
Exhausted and frightened, Destiny stayed at Caleb’s sister’s house for the rest of the night.
“Whenever I went to go lay down and sleep that night, I was scared to go to sleep because – what if it would happen again?” she said. “I’m still scared, because I could go to sleep – and not wake up.”
“It was crazy,” said Caleb. “It was like something that you watch on TV and everybody’s like, ‘well, that’s never going to happen.’ It was just total shock for the entire community.”
An outpouring of support from a wide area greatly eased the family’s pain.
“Our community really helped out with everyone,” said Destiny. “We got so many donations – not just from Marlinton – from Frost, Randolph County, Elkins, everywhere from the state, even Lewisburg. We really appreciate everything.”
Jerry Pennington expressed special thanks to all the firefighters, the Red Cross, the Family Resource Network and local churches for their assistance following the fire.