A five-alarm fire swept through a Glen Burnie apartment complex yesterday, leaving 23 families homeless but injuring no one.
The blaze appeared to have started in a first-floor apartment, fire officials said.
Firefighters found flames shooting out of the windows of apartments on the first and second floors when they arrived at 10:30 a.m. at the three-story building in the Greentree complex off Crain Highway.
The fire spread quickly from the first-floor apartments at 8041 Winding Wood Road to second- and third-floor units, then jumped from the roof of that building to 8043 Winding Wood Road, said Fire Department spokesman Capt. Gary Sheckells.
The roof of 8041 Winding Wood Road was almost completely destroyed, and fire marshals planned to condemn that building along with most of 8043 Winding Wood Road.
"With the roof gone, there is no way to protect the rest of the apartments from rain damage," Captain Sheckells said.
Twelve apartments in 8041 Winding Wood Road and 10 apartments in 8043 suffered heavy smoke, water and fire damage, he said.
As of late yesterday, fire investigators did not know what caused the blaze.
At its height, the fire sent large plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. They could be seen from as far south as Benfield Boulevard and as far north as Dorsey Road.
When firefighters arrived, they began evacuating people from 8041, 8043, 8045 and 8047 Winding Wood Road. Captain Sheckells said 11 of the 12 apartments in the 8041 building were occupied.
"There were some people standing on a third-floor balcony, and there were others who were sleeping," he said.
Kathleen Wongus, who lived in the apartment where the fire apparently started, said she awakened when she smelled smoke.
"I smelled the smoke and then I felt the heat," she said, "I looked in the closet and flames shot out."
After waking her roommate and calling 911, they escaped the smoky apartment to alert their neighbors.
Within 20 minutes, said Pat Wright, Ms. Wongus' roommate, flames had reached the third floor of the building.
"The thing is gone," said Ms. Wright, "Everybody lost everything. And we just moved into that apartment." Their apartment was home to seven people, including four children.
Mary Ann Billock, who lives at 8041 Winding Wood Road, above the apartment where witnesses said the fire started, was getting ready to take her children to the park when she smelled smoke.
"There was light smoke in the dining room and the kitchen. I just got out," she said.
When Ms. Billock left the building, she said flames were shooting out of the windows of the bottom-floor apartment and she heard glass shattering.
Debbie Bailey, who lived next to Ms. Wongus, said she heard the fire alarm and found the hallway engulfed in smoke.
"I grabbed my niece and just ran out the door," she said. "Flames were shooting out of the building and everyone was screaming."
Ms. Bailey said she was afraid that the fire had destroyed most of her possessions.
Debra Long, a resident of 8043 Winding Wood Road, said her apartment had water and smoke damage.
"I was getting really scared," she said. "You could see it spread so fast."
Red Cross workers, who were attending a disaster seminar at the BWI Holiday Inn when they were called to the fire, organized temporary shelter for families from the complex's community room.
Linda Klein, spokeswoman for the Red Cross, said 68 people were left without homes after the fire.