Sixteen people lost their homes when a four-alarm blaze destroyed a large converted barn on Locust Street in Manchester yesterday.
At least 14 firefighters were injured, some by cyanide poisoning, at the fire and taken to area hospitals for treatment. Fire officials were attempting to locate the source of the cyanide.
Two firefighters were flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where one was in critical condition. The nature of their injuries was not immediately known.
John Hoffman, a volunteer for the Manchester Fire Company, suffered a possible fractured ankle and was taken to Carroll County General Hospital for treatment.
The apartment building, a barn about a half-mile off York Street, was converted to six apartments in 1986, according to 90-year-old tenant Charles Renn. Mr. Renn said he has lived at the building since 1987.
"I was in the apartment about 3:10 p.m., when I smelled smoke, and at the same time, a man pounded on the door and told me get out, the place is on fire," said Mr. Renn, who occupied the unit directly above the ground-floor apartment where the fire apparently started.
"I went outside and saw the flames coming out of the basement apartment. There was nothing I could do."
Fire officials said the blaze burned out of the door from the basement apartment, along the outside wall and up into the attic through the overhang of the metal roof. Firefighters said there was no exterior door to get to the attic and they had to gain access by knocking holes in the roof with their axes.
Frank Rauschenberg, deputy fire marshal, declared the building a total loss and said damage was estimated at $175,000.
The fire burned through the ceiling of the ground level apartment and into Mr. Renn's apartment. The floor of Mr. Renn's apartment collapsed into the basement unit.
Mr. Renn was the only tenant home in the building when the blaze was discovered by the resident of a nearby home, who called 911.
Carrie Clark, who occupied the ground-floor apartment where the fire apparently started, told fire investigators she had been cooking on the electric stove, but took the pot off the stove before going to the store. She returned to find the 62-foot by 45-foot building in flames.
Ms. Clark told authorities that she lost all her possessions in the fire.
Firefighters were able to get into five of the apartments when they first arrived and bring out at least four dogs, including a Rottweiler, from a second ground-level apartment. Several cats and birds were also saved by firefighters, many of whom had to walk almost a half-mile from their engines to the blaze.
Later, two smaller utility vehicles were dispatched to the fire to transport firefighters along the narrow street, which turns into a single-lane driveway, to the fire scene to battle the blaze in shifts. Firefighters laid more than 1,500 feet of 5-inch hose from the nearest hydrant to supply water to the site. Officers on the scene later requested several water tank trucks to shuttle water from a nearby farm pond to the scene. The ladder truck from Hampstead cut a hole in the metal roof for ventilation. Firefighters were able to carry much of the furniture out of two apartments, while others battled the blaze above them in the attic.