A fire that damaged a vacant, two-story frame building early yesterday in historic Ellicott City was deliberately set -- the third suspicious blaze in a three-block area in as many weeks, authorities said.
The blaze at 1 a.m. caused $5,000 damage to the building at 8468 Main St. used most recently as a lawn mower repair shop, investigators said. The fire began in the lower level of the 20-by-20-foot building and was quickly extinguished by about 25 county firefighters, said Battalion Chief Don Howell of the Howard County Fire Department. No injuries were reported.
"It was a minor fire, by nature," Chief Howell said, but one worth noting because of the two larger fires nearby.
On March 5, a blaze destroyed a 120-year-old furniture warehouse on Church Road off Main Street. The cause of that fire is under investigation, said John R. Earp Jr., deputy chief state fire marshal. The loss was estimated at $500,000.
On Feb. 19, fire caused damage estimated at $250,000 to Ellicott's Country Store and the Heirlooms Too antique shop, in the 8100 block of Main Street. Arson has been determined as the cause of that blaze, Mr. Earp said.
Chief Howell said the fires bring to mind several suspicious blazes that occurred in the area in 1988. A building adjacent to the site of yesterday's blaze was razed after being damaged during that burning spree, he said.
No one was arrested in connection with the fires, according to Mr. Earp.
"It's frightening," said Joan Higgs, owner of the Sweet Rememberings Doll Hospital in the 8200 block of Main Street. "You hear a fire engine at night and you kind of worry. These buildings are old."
Chief Howell said fire prevention officials plan to meet with business leaders to offer tips on fire awareness and prevention.
"Everybody is feeling a little more vigilant," said Wrexie Bardaglio, owner of The Book Revue, located in the same block as the warehouse. "But I don't think there is a lot anybody can do but to make sure you have adequate insurance and your building is well lit."
Like other business owners, she has found the recent fires sad as well as disturbing.
"There's so much history here," she said. "People who have been here a long time and who have businesses -- they're really a part of what gives the place a sense of permanence."
State fire inspectors asked that anyone with information about the fires call the Arson Hot Line at 1-800-492-7529. The fire marshal's office announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.