Family escapes with their lives and little else

January 05, 1995|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

The Miller family lost everything but a ferret and a small color TV set in a fire that destroyed 10 Hillendale apartments Tuesday.

Their blackened apartment in the 6600 block of Glenbarr Road stood boarded up yesterday afternoon, surrounded by temporary fencing and police tape. About 30 people lived in eight of the 10 burned units; two were unoccupied.

"I've never experienced anything like this in my life," said Cheryl Miller, 33, a presser at a dry cleaning business and a student at Essex Community College, who will spend the rest of the week trying to recover from the two-alarm fire.

It began about 11:15 a.m. Tuesday and caused about $400,000 in damage; 10 engines and six ladder trucks got it under control by noon, said Baltimore County Fire Battalion Chief Patrick Kelly.

Chief Kelly announced yesterday that the fire was set and that the Fire Department's Arson Investigation Team is investigating.

After the fire was under control, Red Cross workers gave out food, cots and emotional support until about 10 p.m. in a makeshift service center in a model apartment unit, according to one worker at the scene.

Meanwhile, managers at Hillendale Gate Apartments moved all the victims to vacant apartments in nearby complexes, the Red Cross worker said. Apartment managers declined to comment about the fire yesterday.

The blaze hit the Miller family particularly hard. Theirs was one of two apartments in the three-story building in which almost everything was burned. Yesterday, Mrs. Miller recounted the experience, which has left her family in emotional and financial ruin.

"I got off work, came home and ran up, and the building was in a blaze," Mrs. Miller said. She had lived in the two-bedroom apartment for two years with her husband, Larry Miller, 43, a supervisory social worker at a halfway house, and their son, Larry Jr., 10, an honor student at Hillendale Elementary School.

They had a queen-sized bedroom set, three color TV sets, living room and dining room sets and several entertainment centers. "I had a nice home," she said.

She also had an extensive wardrobe to wear to Friendship Baptist Church, where she worships about four times a week, and had just given her son several presents -- including clothes, a skateboard and a ferret named Frisco -- for Christmas.

"The only thing left was him," Mrs. Miller said of the ferret. "[Larry Jr.] had 5 A's and 2 B's on his report card, so I wanted to give him a good Christmas," she said, fighting back tears. "I'm angry; I'm very angry."

A color TV set in Larry's bedroom were missed by the flames, as were some of his clothes, but those were ruined by smoke and soot.

The youngster was in shock yesterday. "I really don't feel anything," he said. He did not go to school yesterday but planned to return today.

Mrs. Miller wore all she had left: sweat pants, a shirt, a light jacket and sneakers.

"We don't have any food, no clothing, no pots and pans, no money," she said. "Everything's gone. Everything's gone." The family is staying temporarily in the nearby Tall Oaks complex. On Tuesday night, they slept there on cots provided by the Red Cross. Once her husband and son went to sleep, Mrs. Miller said, she cried as she said her prayers. "I thank God that I know Jesus, and that's what's getting me through all of this," she said.

Mr. Miller was able to keep a shred of humor yesterday. He said he had planned to apply for renters insurance today, his pay day. He had procrastinated but recently obtained the application and had money to cover the insurance premium.

He said he will apply for the insurance as soon as possible but "we got to get something to insure first."

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