Fire destroys apartments under construction near The Mall in Columbia Space heater believed to have caused blaze

January 03, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A two-alarm fire yesterday morning in Columbia destroyed 20 apartments under construction, causing more than $2 million in damage.

A space heater apparently ignited a fire in a stairwell, firefighters said.

The fire, which started after midnight at The Gramercy complex near The Mall in Columbia, was controlled within an hour after firefighters arrived and was extinguished by 5: 30 a.m., said Capt. Michael Faith, spokesman for the Howard County Fire Department.

Units from Prince George's County and Baltimore County also responded, Faith said.

About 20 apartments were destroyed and 10 were severely damaged by water in the complex's northeast building off Broken Land Parkway.

The damaged portion of the 42-unit structure will be torn down by tomorrow, said officials with Bozzuto and Associates, which is developing and maintaining the seven-building, 210-unit complex.

Construction of a new wing should begin within three weeks, said Bob Burt, Bozzuto's project manager. "It's really disappointing seeing this -- a lot of hard work went into this," Burt said as he surveyed the site yesterday.

Fire officials say the blaze moved quickly through the mostly wooden structure.

Because no one lived in the building, which was three weeks from completion, the fire spread without being noticed -- until a neighbor spotted flames shooting through the roof and called 911, firefighters said.

By 2 a.m. the fire had consumed half the building, making it extremely unstable. Firefighters poured about 3,500 gallons of water a minute on the structure.

"It definitely had a head start on us," Faith said.

Construction site fires like yesterday's are not uncommon during the winter because space heaters are needed to protect and dry materials, said Bob Thomas, Maryland deputy chief fire marshal. "Most of those [construction site] fires also occur during the middle of the night, unfortunately, when no one's around to take action," Thomas said.

Bozzuto officials said they had rented two of the apartments that were destroyed and would make sure those people have places to stay until the rebuilt apartments are finished this summer.

Pub Date: 1/03/98

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