John Jones came home from work on Thursday night to see his apartment building in flames, smoke pouring from every window and door.
But yesterday, as he hauled a plastic bag filled with smoke-damaged clothes into a waiting pickup, all he could do was smile with relief. His wife and three children, 5 years, 23 months and 5 months, were all safe.
"That's the best Christmas present I could have," Mr. Jones said.
In all, 21 residents of the Woodland Apartments in the 4700 block of Greenspring Avenue were left homeless Thursday night as a fire swept through eight apartments in one building of the complex.
Christmas trees, presents, furniture and most of the possessions of the residents were lost. Charred couches and blackened mattresses were heaped up out side the building yesterday afternoon. But no one was injured, and for that the residents are grateful.
"I was sleeping, and my dog started barking," said resident Margaret Bryant. "Everybody was banging on the windows."
Mrs. Bryant's husband, Gary, helped rescue two sleeping children from a neighboring apartment.
"Everybody wanted to make sure all the children were out," Mrs. Bryant said. "You might not come out with the things you put in, but you came out with your life."
Fire officials said yesterday that the two-alarm fire was started by a cooking pot that was left unattended on a gas stove.
Damage to the apartment building was estimated at $110,000, fire officials said, and damage to contents was valued at $50,000. Yesterday, residents were told to remove all their possessions because the building had been condemned and was to be boarded up last night.
Red Cross officials interviewed residents at the building yesterday and made sure that everyone had a place to stay and food to eat. The Red Cross also will provide bedding, some essential appliances, medications and other necessities when the residents find new places to live, said volunteer Gonzalo Hernandez.
Unfortunately, the Red Cross can't replace the toys that were ruined under Mr. Jones' Christmas tree.
Most of the families forced out by the fire had been taken in by family or friends yesterday. But one family planned to stay in a shelter, and the Red Cross was putting up the Bryant couple in a hotel. Mrs. Bryant wasn't sure where they would go when their four children, who had been staying with her mother on the night of the fire, returned home Monday.
"It's very sad and very scary, and the ones that lost everything, my heart really goes out to them," she said.