At least three people were injured today, one critically, when a three-alarm fire broke out on the 10th floor of a high-rise apartment house for the elderly at 20th Street and Maryland Avenue.
Fire investigators blamed careless smoking for the fire, which began in a small sofa in a 10th-floor apartment on the south side of the 18-story West Twenty Apartments.
A 64-year-old man identified as Hurlan Davis was reported to be in critical condition at the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore with smoke inhalation.
Another resident, James Stanley, 70, was reported in good condition at University of Maryland Medical Center with smoke inhalation. He was expected to be released later today, hospital officials said.
Fire Department spokesman Capt. Patrick P. Flynn said an elderly woman who lived in the 10th-floor apartment where the fire began was found unconscious in the hallway. She was revived by firefighters and taken to Homewood Hospital, formerly North Charles General, but no further information was available.
About 400 people live in the building's 340 apartments. Hundreds were forced from their apartments by smoke from the fire. Many of them made their way down from upper floors through smoke-filled stairwells. Others retreated to the roof, or to their balconies.
"It scared me to death, coming down those stairs," said Hilda Banks, 79, who was in her bed on the ninth floor when fire bells woke her up.
"When I opened the fire door, the people were coming down the stairs, screaming and hollering," she said. "It was scary, because I heard people hollering and I thought the fire was coming behind them."
She took refuge in an eighth-floor hallway that was clear of smoke until firefighters could take her to the lobby in an elevator.
A number of residents were treated for smoke inhalation at the scene. About 40 more were bused to a school at 221 W. 21st St. in an effort to make them more comfortable.
Damage was estimated by fire officials at $90,000, including $10,000 to the contents of the apartment where the fire started.
Fire officials said residents were trained in how to respond to a fire in the building, and that helped to prevent undue confusion, panic and further injuries.
Flynn said the fire broke out about 7:20 a.m. A second alarm was sounded 7:27 a.m. and a third at 7:38. It was under control by 8:30 a.m.
A second fire broke out a few minutes later on the roof of the east Court House building in the 100 block of N. Calvert St. when a "tar pot" being used by roofers caught fire shortly before 8 a.m. The fire sent smoke billowing through the four-story structure, an old post office building that still houses a post office branch.
The fire was contained to the roof and was declared under control within 15 minutes with no injuries.
"I thought it was a false alarm, but then I realized it wasn't," said Circuit Court Judge John Carroll Byrnes, who was in his office when he heard a fire alarm.
Fire officials said only a handful of workers were in the building.
Both fires came during the morning traffic rush, but the 20th Street fire caused more serious backups, blocking traffic on Maryland Avenue at 20th Street.
One fire truck responding to the fire collided with a Ford Bronco at Maryland Avenue and 23rd Street.
The Bronco overturned. The driver was rescued by the fire truck crew. He was treated at Maryland General Hospital and released.
An operator in the city's Traffic and Transit Division said the courthouse fire caused a major slowdown on Calvert Street between Lexington and Fayette streets. Part of nearby Guilford Avenue also was blocked.