Two die, 6 left homeless in Bel Air apartment fire

Baltimore firefighter helps residents escape early-morning blaze

January 11, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Two men were killed and six people were left homeless when a two-alarm fire swept through a three-story apartment building in Harford County early yesterday, the state fire marshal's office said.

The fire apparently started about 5: 30 a.m. in the third-floor unit occupied by the dead men at 1610 Denise Drive in the Harford Village Apartments in Forest Hill, said the fire marshal's office.

Allen Gosnell, a spokesman for the state fire marshal's office, said one man was thought to be in his 20s and the other in his 30s. Their names were being withheld pending notification of relatives.

Neighbors said the men worked at a nearby Amoco station, which was closed yesterday.

Autopsies were to be performed by the state medical examiner's office today, Gosnell said.

Zaker Hussain, 26, who was staying in the apartment of the men who were killed, awoke to dense smoke but was unable to awaken the others, who were in separate bedrooms, Gosnell said.

Hussain ran to 1612 Denise Drive to the apartment of Capt. Joseph Brocato, a Baltimore City fire officer. Brocato, who is assigned to Rescue 1 at the Steadman House, 300 W. Lombard St., said he raced to 1610 and knocked on doors, shouted for people to get out of the building and helped rescue an occupant.

Resident Jennifer Wellborn, 24, suffered a broken arm and bruises when she jumped from a third-floor window into Brocato's arms to escape the flames.

Wellborn was treated at Fallston General Hospital and released, her mother said.

Fire officials said the blaze caused about $400,000 damage to the six-unit building.

The cause of the blaze had not been determined last night, and the state fire marshal's office was continuing its investigation.

Yesterday afternoon, residents and their families returned to the burned-out shell of the brick apartment building to salvage what they could.

While Jennifer Wellborn sat in the car, her parents carried out a few boxes of Christmas decorations, some compact discs and a Cal Ripken Wheaties box that had escaped damage.

Noreen Wellborn said her daughter was awakened by shouting and saw smoke pouring into her third-floor apartment. Jennifer Wellborn ran to her back patio to rescue her pet rabbit, but flames had engulfed the area, her mother said.

She said her daughter then tried to go out by her door but was forced back by thick smoke.

Brocato said last night he was getting dressed when Hussain banged on his door. "He was yelling that his apartment was on fire.

"When I got to the burning apartment," he said, "the whole apartment was in flames and I didn't think anyone in there could have survived."

Brocato said he stood below the front kitchen window of Wellborn's third-floor apartment and urged her to jump.

Before jumping, she put her two cats, Sadie and Aja, in pillowcases and dropped them to Brocato.

Bernice Baker, 71, who lived on the first floor of the building for 10 years, said she was awakened by a loud thud. She went to her dining room window and saw that the bushes in front of the building were on fire.

"Then I smelled the smoke," Baker said. "It was unbelievable."

She opened her door but was driven back by the smoke. She grabbed a robe and slippers and escaped through her back patio door as debris fell around her.

"The whole roof was on fire," Baker said yesterday as she sat in a neighbor's apartment. In front of her on a dining room table were a few pieces of jewelry she was able to recover. Nearly everything else was lost in the blaze.

Bel Air Fire Department spokesman Sgt. Rich Gardiner said more than 75 firefighters from Bel Air, Fallston, Abingdon and Jarrettsville battled the fire for more than an hour before bringing it under control. All six apartments were destroyed in the fire, but a concrete block fire wall stopped it from spreading to an adjoining apartment building.

Ruth Young, a spokeswoman for the Central Maryland Chapter of the American Red Cross, said all of the surviving residents had found shelter with friends or relatives. They included three residents over age 70 and a 13-year-old boy.

Pub Date: 1/11/99

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