Essex fire displaces 22 residents But no one is hurt, not even the cat

June 18, 1993|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

Six hours after a fire swept through a residential complex in Essex yesterday, Tigger the cat reappeared.

As his owner, Kimberly Purta, searched outside for him, Tigger scampered out of her damaged townhouse apartment and into her arms.

"I can't believe he's all right after being in all that smoke," a relieved Ms. Purta said.

Ms. Purta, Tigger and other residents of the Gateway town home development off Route 702 were forced from their homes at 5:30 a.m. by a blaze that destroyed four units and badly damaged two others in the 900 block of Honeywood Place. Red Cross officials said six other units received minor damage. No one was injured.

Late yesterday morning, management arranged for 22 residents whose apartments were rendered uninhabitable, including 13 children, to relocate in vacant townhouses in the complex. Red Cross officials busily sought food, clothing, furniture and medications for the displaced victims, many of whom lost everything in the blaze. Amid the confusion, they also found time to locate a nearby veterinarian who agreed to treat Tigger for possible smoke inhalation.

Battalion Chief Michael Whittaker said the fire was started by a faulty extension cord plugged into an exterior outlet of a storage shed shared by two townhouses. The sheds are attached to the houses' outer walls. He said firefighters could not immediately determine what was plugged into the out- let because the shed was de- stroyed.

Some 60 firefighters with 13 pieces of equipment brought the blaze under control in an hour.

Chief Whittaker said the fire apparently spread from the shed up one townhouse wall, then through the attics of adjoining town- houses.

Garrick Taylor was asleep in his home with his wife and two

children when he woke and saw light flickering outside his bedroom window. He opened the window and saw flames licking their way up the side and onto the roof of the shed below.

"I woke up my wife and we grabbed our daughters and ran out of the house as fast as we could," said Mr. Taylor, 35, as he gazed at the blackened remains of his townhouse.

"We got nothing left but our lives, but that's the most important thing," he said.

Mr. Taylor said he banged on his neighbors' doors to alert them to the danger. One of those he awoke was Ms. Purta, 21, his next-door neighbor.

"I was asleep with the bedroom window closed and the air conditioner on and I don't know how he managed to wake me up, but he did," Ms. Purta said.

She grabbed her dog, Daisy, and fled from her house. After giving the dog to a neighbor, she ran back into the house to search for Tigger and another cat named Bubba.

"I guess they were really scared because they both ran from me and I couldn't catch them," Ms. Purta said. "Then people outside started yelling that my roof was on fire and that I'd better get out."

She was still looking for Bubba later yesterday and trying to console her boyfriend, Phillip DiMattie, who shared the apartment. He came out of the damaged building, slumped into a crouch beside another townhouse, and wiped tears from his cheeks with the bottom of his work shirt.

"Everything inside is ruined," he said bitterly. "We just got our new furniture two months ago. I can't afford to replace it right now."

Red Cross officials said those who wish to contribute to the organization's disaster relief fund may call (410) 764-4644.

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