WEBSTER SPRINGS, W.Va. — The fire that claimed the life of a night watchman at the Division of Highways garage in Webster County was a personal tragedy to many who responded to the blaze.
“He was a model kid and well respected in the community,” said Webster Springs Fire Chief Donnie McCourt of the victim identified as Stephen Cogar, 22. “It was a tragic loss and a lot of our firefighters knew him personally. They had watched him grow up since grade school and it was hard on everybody.”
According to the Division of Highways Cogar had actually been communicating via social media chat with an employee at the county’s 911 center just hours before the fire. Investigators say there were several hang up calls to 911 which prompted the response to the fire.
Cogar’s body was found in the front office of the building and according to McCourt the fire started in the back area of the garage.
“He was the night watchman and wasn’t back in the area. I think he went into the garage area to investigate and that led to his demise,” said McCourt. “It grew rapidly and made some very thick dense smoke that was very toxic.”
Investigators believe Cogar was trying to get out when he was overcome. As for a cause, it’s hard to say at this point what sparked the fire, but McCourt said they do believe they know where the fire began. The state Fire Marshal’s office continues to probe the cause.
One thing which may have accelerated the deadly fire was the building’s construction and age.
“It was built in 1946 and was a rock building built by the work’s project. Around 1971 or ’72 the state came in and insulated it with spray on foam insulation, which is highly flammable when super heated,” he explained. “When the fire got into that insulation it accelerated tremendously. Its BTU’s are probably the same as gasoline, so it spread rapidly.”
The facility is located in the community of Cherry Falls. Since there are few people in the area it’s likely the building burned for quite a while before even Cogar would have noticed it.
“It was already through the roof by the time we got there,” McCourt said.