A two-alarm fire ripped through a Reisterstown apartment building early today, killing two men, injuring two firefighters and forcing the evacuation of several families, Baltimore County authorities said.
The site of the fire at the Bentley Park Apartments in the 400 block of Shirley Manor Road, behind the Chartley Shopping Center on Reisterstown Road, was also where a tornado in October 1990 damaged more than a dozen apartment buildings and nearby single-family homes.
The fire, which was reported at 1:20 a.m, occurred in a basement apartment at 404 Shirley Manor Road, a building that has sustained minor damage from the tornado, a county fire official said.
Authorities identified the dead as Leroy Sacks, 45, and his brother, George, 48.
The fire started from careless smoking in their apartment, said Lt. Richard Brooks of the county fire department. He said investigators found no fire code violations.
Kelly Barth said her sleep was disturbed by a rumbling in her bedroom wall, which divided her apartment from the Sacks apartment, as flames and smoke beat against it from the other side. "I thought the gentlemen next door were arguing," she said. She woke her husband, Randy, to investigate.
From the sliding porch door, Mr. Barth could see flames and smoke next door and people outside blowing their car horns and yelling at him to get out.
He called to his wife, who grabbed their 4-year-old daughter and took her to safety on the back lawn. Mrs. Barth went back for her parakeets. Her husband got the dog.
The flames never entered their apartment, but the smoke may have ruined their furniture. The Barths said the Red Cross has offered them housing at a motel in Westminster for the next few nights. They plan to start looking for somewhere else to live.
The smoke detector, which Mrs. Barth said sometimes sounded because of cooking smoke from the stove, did not alert them to the fire. "I can't get over that," she said, grateful that she was a light sleeper.
"If I was a heavy sleeper and that smoke alarm didn't go off," she said, "they would have taken us out in body bags."
The two injured firefighters were treated at Carroll County General Hospital and released. One was from the Reisterstown Volunteers and the other from the volunteer station at Owings Mills.
At least a a dozen residents of the burned-out apartments were taken to the nearby Reisterstown United Methodist Church and given food and clothing.
Linda Klein, a spokeswoman for the Central Maryland Red Cross, said that as many as four families would be lodged in nearby motels for the next few nights and that at least three would eventually get help replacing lost food, clothing and furniture. Other families burned out of their homes have found shelter with relatives.
When firefighters arrived at the scene, they found fire erupting from the building's first, second and third floors.
They began rescue attempts, said Lt. Brooks, but discovered the two brothers dead and the remaining residents evacuated.
A second alarm was sounded at 1:42 a.m. as flames spread and eventually broke through the roof.
Within minutes, the fire spread into apartments at 406 and 408 Shirley Manor Road.
While firefighters, including some from Carroll County, battled the fire, county police rousted sleeping residents and directed them to safety.
Shortly after the fire was brought under control at 3:14 a.m., firefighters entered the basement apartment at 404 Shirley Manor Road and found the bodies of the victims.
Lt. Brooks said six apartments were badly damaged and that others received smoke damage.