As many as 14 Howard County families were driven from their homes and into 30-degree temperatures early yesterday when a fire gutted two town house apartments and the smoke damaged several others in the Whiskey Bottom neighborhood.
Some residents lost their possessions in the 2:30 a.m. blaze in the 9200 block of Traders Crossing, but no injuries were reported, said Battalion Chief Donald R. Howell, a fire spokesman.
He estimated the damage at $145,000.
The Red Cross was helping residents to find housing yesterday afternoon. Although most of the damage was confined to about six apartments, power to the building -- which contains 14 apartments -- was lost, leaving tenants without heat.
The residents of two apartments lost their possessions in the fire and had to move to other apartments at the complex, said Scott Knox, director of the Howard County Red Cross chapter. Thirty others whose apartments were damaged by smoke or lacked heat likely will be staying in motels or with relatives for two days.
The state fire marshal's office is investigating the fire, although foul play is not suspected, said Allen L. Ward, a deputy chief fire marshal.
The fire triggered an alarm that sent tenants out into the cold where they gathered on the parking lot.
"We stood out in the parking lot and froze on Christmas," said Michael Bryant, a correctional officer who was forced out of his home by the smoke. "There were 40 or 50 of us out there, just shivering and wondering, 'Why is this happening to us at Christmastime?' "
Another apartment fire that occurred Christmas Eve caused about $5,000 in damage at the Hobbit's Grove complex on Cedar Lane, displacing a woman until her home could be repaired, firefighters said.