Blast, Fire Wreck Part of Town Rich in Labor Movement Lore

From Associated Press

A fire and explosion severely damaged about a quarter of the business district and left eight families homeless Friday in this coal mining town that was the site of a historic labor battle.

Seven people were slightly injured, said John Warden, director of the Mingo County Ambulance Service.

Four businesses were leveled and four others sustained severe damage from fire, water or flying debris, said Mayor John Fullen.

The fire began about 3 a.m. in a downtown auto parts store that was filled with paint, paint thinner and other combustible chemicals, Warden said. The blaze erupted in a blast of flaming debris that ignited neighboring businesses, a church, a union office and an ambulance station, he said.

"We had several explosions that blew glass and bricks into the street," Warden said.

The cause of the initial blaze in the auto parts store was under investigation.

Some of the buildings destroyed dated to the 1897 founding of Matewan, which has a bloody history.

Before the town's founding, the area on the Kentucky-West Virginia line was the scene of the long-running feud between the Hatfield and Kentucky-based McCoy clans that began after the Civil War.

In 1920, 10 people died in the "Matewan Massacre," a gun battle between coal company detectives and residents after striking miners were evicted from company-owned houses. The police chief at the time was Sid Hatfield, a relative of the feuding Hatfields.

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