Ballroom burning

Firefighters walk past the burning remains of the ballroom at Conneaut Lake par. The blaze destroyed the structure early Friday morning.

Small groups of people stood in stunned silence at Conneaut Lake Park late Friday morning, watching smoke and smoldering embers from a fire that just hours before had destroyed the historic Dreamland Ballroom. The 116-year-old amusement park’s ballroom and some nearby midway buildings fell victim to the blaze that had begun in the middle of the night.

George Glancy, a 16-year-employee of the park who lives in a home inside its boundaries, said he heard about the fire on an emergency radio scanner and immediately went the short distance to help. He said while he smelled the smoke and saw a small fire, the scene seemed quiet – but “all of sudden she (the fire) just took off.”

The fire was discovered about 2:15 a.m. by two emergency medical technicians on their way home to Conneautville.

Park Manager George Deshner was home when he received a pre-dawn call Friday, with the caller indicating Hotel Conneaut was on fire. Deshner called Crawford County’s 911 center to verify the information and was advised it was true.

But while driving to the park from his Meadville home, Deshner received another call saying it was Dreamland Ballroom, not the hotel, that was on fire.

He said when he drove through Conneaut Lake, 3 miles south of the park, he could see the flames shooting 50 to 60 feet high.

Nobody knows for certain what started the fire. It is under investigation by state police Fire Marshal Dana Beckwith. Although he did preliminary inspections Friday, Beckwith’s probe was hampered by smoke and by some “hot spots,” said Deshner. Beckwith is to return to the scene Monday morning for further investigation before making a ruling on the cause.

“At this point, it’s undetermined,” said Deshner.

The fire spread through Dreamland Ballroom, into a maintenance building, and down one side of the amusement park’s midway game area, stopping at the Skee Ball stand before it was brought under control, said Deshner.

The midway is a row of connected, more-than-century-old, wood-frame structures that house many of the park’s games and food stands. Behind the midway facades are storage areas for rides, as well as repair shops where amusement-ride cars are repaired, stored and receive maintenance.

The Skee Ball building was destroyed, but the games inside were saved.

Deshner said the fire department planned to knock down the Skee Ball stand Friday, but that was delayed until the fire marshal’s investigation is complete.

Also destroyed were restrooms, a former jail area, and storage places with equipment for such things as pizza, taffy, cotton candy, soft pretzels and the funnel cake operations.

About 16 fire companies responded. Gig King, chief of the Summit Township Volunteer Fire Department, said he expects the blaze to keep burning for three to four days.

There was no fire insurance on the building, said Jack Moyers, chairman of the board of trustees overseeing park operations.

The two-story ballroom has been largely unused in recent years and was partly used for storage. It was built in 1909, replacing a ballroom that burned the year before.

The Crawford County park opened in 1892. The home of the famous wooden Blue Streak roller coaster has debts totaling more than $2 million and did not open last season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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