- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2008

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — A fire yesterday destroyed a historic Boonsboro hotel owned by best-selling romance novelist Nora Roberts, who was remodeling it to turn it into a literary-themed inn.

The fire also damaged six other downtown buildings — two of them severely — but there were no injuries, Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Jason M. Mowbray said. He estimated the damage at $1.5 million to $2 million.

Residents of four apartments were displaced, Chief Mowbray said.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Joseph G. Zurolo Jr. said the fire started at about 7:30 a.m. on the first floor of the Boone Hotel, owned by Mrs. Roberts and her husband, Bruce Wilder.

Mrs. Roberts, a longtime Western Maryland resident, is best known for her romance novels and has been a regular on the New York Times best-seller list since the early 1990s. Among her recent books are Treasures and Blood Brothers: Sign of Seven Trilogy, Book 1.

Her husband runs a bookstore in the town of 3,200, about 60 miles northwest of the District. They were renovating the hotel and planned to open it this summer as an inn with each room reflecting a different romantic literary theme. The 2½-story hotel dates to the late 1700s.

It’s devastating for us and for the town and for the other properties that were damaged. It’s just really horrific, Mrs. Roberts said from her nearby home in rural Keedysville, Md.

Investigators haven’t released the cause of the fire but Chief Mowbray said there is no evidence of suspicious or criminal activity.

Mr. Wilder said he was told by renovation workers that it started when a propane tank they were using to fuel a heater fell over.

There’s nothing left but the stone from the original building and some of the brick wall, Mr. Wilder said.

Mr. Wilder said his Turn the Page Bookstore Cafe, across the street and several doors down, wasn’t damaged.

Boonsboro Mayor Charles F. Skip Kauffman said the fire damage would not halt a commercial revival in the rapidly growing community.

The sun will be up tomorrow and we’ll be back stronger than ever, Mr. Kauffman said.

The fire was the second disastrous blaze affecting Mrs. Roberts’ family in 15 months. A pizza shop owned by her son Dan Aufdem-Brinke was destroyed Jan. 19, 2007, in a fire caused by a faulty fan motor. He said plans to open a new restaurant in another downtown hotel building Mrs. Roberts and Mr. Wilder recently bought and renovated, the Hagerstown Herald-Mail reported.

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