Finding the cause of a fire that displaced 60 people from a Columbia apartment complex and caused more than $1 million in damage yesterday is expected to take several days because of structural damage to the four-story building, officials said.
The fire, with flames leaping out of windows and the roof, engulfed one end of a building in the Chase-Glen apartments about 4 a.m. Eighty firefighters from five counties were called to fight the fire.
Sixty people were evacuated from the burning building and a connecting building in the 10300 block of Hickory Ridge Road, but the fire was confined to the one structure. No residents were hurt, but three firefighters were slightly injured.
Howard County Fire Department chaplain George Grimm said one woman who returned home while the fire was under way became hysterical.
Damage was estimated at $750,000 to the building and $340,000 to contents. The fire started in a basement apartment, said Deputy State Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor.
Investigators yesterday were examining debris to determine the cause.
Stanley Weinberg, who lives across the street from Chase-Glen, said that "flames were sky high" when he was awakened by fire engines.
Brenda Guardala and her husband, Noel, said they were the first residents to respond when a smoke alarm went off in their front ground-level apartment.
"The alarm went off, we smelled smoke and were like, 'What the heck is going on?' " Mrs. Guardala said. "We started unplugging stuff and saw smoke coming from the kitchen floor."
The Guardalas called 911 and then went to an outside hallway to pull a fire alarm. Another resident, they said, went from door to door alerting others.
Mr. Guardala said he and his wife took their 16-month-old son and went outside to wait for firefighters.
"We're just happy we got out safe and alive," Mr. Guardala said.
The Red Cross relocated many residents to the Columbia Inn five minutes away. Others stayed with friends or relatives. Occupants of the undamaged building were allowed to return.
Chase-Glen resident Laura Klein, told by management she would not be able to move back in for a month, said she hadn't decided where she would stay temporarily.
Sgt. Robert Wiseman of the county fire department said 28 apartments in the two buildings were evacuated, but occupants of 14 apartments in the connecting building moved back after the fire was out. Fire officials weren't sure how many people remained displaced after the apartments in the one building were reoccupied.
He said firefighters contained the fire to an end section of the one building.
However, the flames were so intense that they destroyed the roof and the floor between the second and third floor, and the rear of some units became detached from the rest of the building, he said.
Sergeant Wiseman said walls were sagging in some places, and fire investigators were awaiting an evaluation of the building's structural integrity by county building inspectors.
Apartment managers said work crews would tear down the charred and brittle remains of the building's rear that threatened to collapse.
Fire companies from Anne Arundel County; Catonsville and Halethorpe in Baltimore County; Laurel in Prince George's County; and Burtonsville in Montgomery County assisted Howard firefighters.
The three injured firefighters were treated at Howard County General Hospital in Columbia and were released, Sergeant Wiseman said. One injured his hand with a tool, one was examined after a ceiling fell on him and a third suffered heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.