Brett Warren surveyed the damage inside his 84-year-old furniture store Thursday, just hours after a fire gutted what had been the longest-running business on Walnut Street.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," the 59-year-old said as he, an insurance adjuster and a deputy state fire marshal examined what was left of the iconic Warren Furniture store. "I'd like to rebuild, but it's going to be tough to start over again at my age. All I know right now is that this is the first time in 37 years that I won't be going to work to sell furniture."
A passerby first reported the blaze at 100 S. Walnut St. just after 9 p.m. on Wednesday, according to the state fire marshal's office.
Firefighters from Carlisle Fire Company arrived on the scene within minutes and eventually were joined by dozens of firefighters from several area fire departments.
State fire officials said it took about 50 firefighters nearly three hours to bring the blaze under control. Emergency responders remained on the scene until about 1:30 a.m., conducting overhaul and salvage operations.
Fire officials said the blaze was contained to the Warren Furniture building and did not damage Shockley Hall to the south or the state department of health and human services office building to the west.
However, the fire caused an estimated $750,000 worth of damage to Warren Furniture, including the total loss of two floors of display furniture.
Although the state fire marshal's office has yet to determine what caused the blaze, investigators say it appears the fire began in the rear of the first floor showroom.
"I have no idea how it happened," Warren said Thursday. "I'm guessing it might have been electrical, but I really have no idea. All I know is that everything was fine when I locked up on Christmas Eve."
Warren said he was at home asleep in bed when the fire broke out Wednesday night.
"A friend called me and told me there was smoke coming out of the building, so I got up and came right down," he said. "When I got here I saw big flames shooting out of the windows and smoke was coming out of every hole. It was incredible."
Warren said he could only stand by and watch helplessly as the blaze decimated the furniture store his grandfather had opened at its current location in 1928, following several years on the other side of Southeast Front Street at the current location of EcoChic Boutique.
"All I could think was, 'That's my livelihood,'" said Warren, who has worked at the furniture since he was 16. "Now, the longer this thing goes on, the more the feelings and memories are starting to get to me."
Page 2 of 2 - Warren said he was somewhat comforted Thursday by the caring words of friends and customers who stopped by to check on him and his family business.
"Some of them have offered to lend me a hand, but I honestly don't know what they can do because there's not much I can do at this point," he said. "I did manage to get some my tools out so if someone calls, I can still do some work, although I'm not sure how much."
Warren said it's still too early to tell how much work would be required on the building before he would be able to re-open.
"It was built in 1918 and I'm guessing it would take a lot to bring it up to today's codes, so it's hard to say right now whether it's even an option, really," he said. "Honestly, I'm still trying to get my mind around it. Until now, my life has been getting up and going to work. That's all different now."