Fire engulfs Mears Point Marina At least 3 businesses destroyed

$1 million in damage estimated

January 30, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

A five-alarm fire swept through a large, wooden warehouse at a Kent Narrows marina yesterday, destroying at least three businesses and causing more than $1 million in damage.

About 40 people were in the building when the fire broke out at 8: 58 a.m., but they all escaped uninjured.

Firefighters arrived within minutes, but the ferocious blaze had engulfed the building at Mears Point Marina and caused the roof to collapse. Billowy black clouds could be seen from the Bay Bridge, about six miles east of the marina, which is north of U.S. 50 on Kent Narrows Way.

The cause of the fire had not been determined, fire officials said last night, and preliminary investigations showed no signs of anything suspicious.

But building tenants blamed an electrical wiring malfunction in the Calypso Dive and Travel shop in the southwest corner of the building, where they first saw smoke.

The building had no sprinkler system, said Deputy State Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor.

Yesterday, Heath Schuman hugged his tearful wife, Sherrie, as they watched the scene of destruction. Completely consumed was their small, family boat cleaning business, Schuman's Cleaning Service. A blackened roof sat on the floor of their business, the dive shop and Taylor's Yacht Maintenance.

"I don't know what we have left," said Schuman, 27, who was at the Chesapeake Bay Boat Show at the Baltimore Convention Center when a man told him his store was on fire. "It looks like we've got nothing."

More than 100 firefighters from four counties -- Queen Anne's, Talbot, Caroline and Anne Arundel -- battled the flames.

Witnesses said the blaze from Calypso spread rapidly from the rafters through the roof. Flames shooting into the air almost engulfed two aerial ladders, they said. Taylor said flammable boat fluids, a high ceiling and strong gusts of wind in the morning combined to drive the fire higher.

Witnesses said several people tried to go back into the building to save equipment and belongings but were driven back by heat and heavy smoke. Workers were able to move cars and rescue two boats from the warehouse.

But more than half of the 28,000-square-foot building was destroyed and at least four boats in the warehouse were devoured, including a $250,000 speed boat.

Besides three businesses that were destroyed, the marina, Island Athletic Club and a massage studio were seriously damaged. It was unknown how many other boats in the 600-slip marina might have been damaged by embers floating on the breeze, marina officials said.

Barry Cohen of Meisel & Cohen Properties, which owns the building, said this was "the most devastating fire" the 16-year-old marina has suffered.

"Dollar-wise, I have no idea how much we lost," Cohen said from his Rockville office. "But, the only thing I know is that no one was injured and that was our main concern. Anything else can be rebuilt."

Cohen said the building most likely would be razed and "hopefully" rebuilt by May, in time for the boating season.

Carol Davenport and co-worker Charlene Warrick stood side by side watching as firefighters pulled charred wood paneling from the building.

Davenport, who ran a baby-sitting room for the athletic club, said she first smelled smoke while exercising about 8: 30 a.m. When she finished her workout at 9 a.m., she saw people running back and forth outside.

Davenport shook her head in amazement. "Thank God there were no kids in the baby-sitting room yet," she said to Warrick. "I've worked here 11 years. It's like a family. We hoped and we prayed and we hoped and we prayed, but now we're just watching our future go up in smoke."

Frank Taylor, who owns the repair shop, was equally somber. He was just able to rescue a computer from his shop. Everything else was consumed in the fire, he said -- invoices, records, work orders, three boats and equipment.

"It just happened so fast," Taylor said, staring at a charred facade that had a "CLOSED" sign in his empty store window. "It went from some smoke to a blazing fire in less than 30 minutes. I don't know what happens next. I've lost everything."

Pub Date: 1/30/98

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