4-alarm condo fire leaves 27 families homeless Officials suspect child with matches

March 21, 1992|By Roger Twigg | Roger Twigg,Staff Writer

A four-alarm fire that investigators believed was started by a child playing with matches gutted a condominium complex near Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County yesterday evening, leaving 27 families homeless.

No injuries were reported. The fire burned through two buildings of the Cambridge Commons Apartments in the 2100 block of Peaceful Way in Odenton. It started shortly before 4:30 p.m. and spread quickly, said Capt. J. Gary Sheckells, an Anne Arundel County Fire Department spokesman.

Volunteers from the American Red Cross were interviewing the families last night and were placing those who had no other housing arrangements in area motels, said spokeswoman Linda Klein.

By 8:30 p.m., the volunteers had talked to 32 adults and two children in 17 families, Ms. Klein said. In the next few hours, members of six more families were interviewed, and seven of the 23 families were put up in motels. Eight of the families received emergency food and clothing.

The Red Cross will return to the condominium complex this morning to set up a service center and interview the families a second time to determine their long-range needs, Ms. Klein said.

"There was already a large volume of fire before we arrived," Captain Sheckells said. The fire was burning in the middle of the apartment buildings and was beginning to break through the roof.

"The fire was well advanced," Captain Sheckells said. "Once it got up into the roof, it quickly spread horizontally." The first alarm was called in at 4:27 p.m. After the arriving firefighters saw the severity of the blaze, they called in a second alarm at 4:32 p.m. A third alarm was called in at 4:38 p.m. and a fourth alarm at 5:26 p.m.

More than 70 firefighters and 26 pieces of equipment from the Anne Arundel County Fire Department brought the blaze under control at 5:50 p.m. Units from the Howard County, Baltimore Washington International Airport and Fort Meade fire departments also responded.

Residents told fire investigators that a child from a third floor apartment was playing with matches and might have caused the fire, Captain Sheckells said. The cause of the fire was ruled accidental.

Two residents had to be rescued from within the building, Captain Sheckells said.

The affected group of apartments contained 28 units, all but one of them occupied. Between 16 and 20 of the apartments were destroyed by fire and the remaining apartments were being assessed for further damage, Captain Sheckells said.

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