A long crane extended into the Sunday morning sky as firefighters worked to remove charred rubble from the roof of a historic Bellefonte building.
The smell of burned wood hung heavy in the air, lingering hours after firefighters finally got the fiery blaze under control. Locals clutched their morning coffee and newspapers while gathering on the Centre County Courthouse steps, trying to get a better look at the charred remains of the Hotel Do De building.
The fire — which was reported at about 12:30 a.m. Sunday — left the building on the 100 block of East High Street blackened and burned. Hotel Do De owner John Dann said he has no estimate of the damage as of Sunday morning, but he can “see daylight” from the first floor.
The fire was discovered shortly after patrons of the bar began noticing smoke in the rafters, said Rona Richner, the bartender at the Do De Sunday night and the daughter of Dann.
“The next thing you know, someone hollered, ‘The hotel’s on fire,’” Dann said. “I took the second floor, and we got everyone out. That’s the main thing.”
All patrons of the bar were removed safely, as well as the tenants occupying the apartments on the second and third floors, Dann said. The American Red Cross also made sure anyone left homeless by the fire had a place to stay in a local hotel, he added.
But the Do De wasn’t the only building experiencing the flames. Dann said the adjoining Garman Opera House Theatre had flames coming from its windows before the fire could even be seen from the Hotel Do De.
“It was bad,” Bellefonte resident Dave Beck said. “There were flames shooting up everywhere.”
When firemen arrived on the scene, Bellefonte Fire Department Chief Tim Schreffler said there was heavy smoke and a glow from the interior of the building, which meant they were working with an active fire.
Nine departments were called in to help with the blaze, as well as some transfer firefighters, he said. Some of Schreffler’s men sustained injuries due to the nature of the fire, but none required serious medical attention, he said.
“There have been a lot of fires in Bellefonte, and most buildings have been destroyed,” Schreffler said. “This one is still standing. That’s from the contribution of some aggressive firefighting tactics.”
Schreffler reported the fire as “situation under control” at about 6 a.m. Sunday morning, more than five hours after the blaze was reported. Official damage estimates were not yet determined as of press time Sunday, but the fire continues to be under investigation until a cause is determined, he said.
The Courtroom Annex building — which is to the right of the Hotel Do De — sustained no damage, Schreffler said.
The blaze drew quite a crowd from local residents in the early morning hours as well, Richner said. The bar was a staple of the community, and the business has been a part of the downtown Bellefonte area for almost 35 years, she said.
Community members continued to come out as daylight made its appearance, many looking to see the remnants of the fire they managed to sleep through, and some looking to extend support to the longtime and well-known bar owner.
A few wives of the firefighters stood around the black benches outside the courthouse, which many of the tired men rested on in between shifts. One little girl latched onto her father’s leg, despite the blackened uniform he wore.
Dann sat on another bench, shoulders hunched after a sleepless night. Blankly, he stared up at the building that became his home for the Bellefonte community.
“This is where people come for their first drink when they turn 21 — gotta go to the Do De,” he said, looking down at his hands. “I’ve been there 34 years, and then it all goes up in smoke.”