Chimney problem blamed for fire

Apartment complex damage estimate put at $800,000

Columbia

Chimney problem blamed for fire at apartments

January 03, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Damage from the New Year's Day fire at Columbia's Reflections Apartments topped $800,000, the state fire marshal's office said yesterday.

Fire officials have identified the cause of the blaze as a chimney malfunction, said Capt. Gary Jones, a spokesman for Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services. The state fire marshal's office and local fire officials are continuing their investigation, he said.

Ten families from two apartment buildings had to be relocated, Jones said.

The blaze began about 10 a.m. in the attic area of one of the buildings in the 11900 block of Little Patuxent Parkway and took about 90 minutes to extinguish, the fire marshal's office said.

About 65 firefighters from Howard, Prince George's, Montgomery and Carroll counties responded to the two-alarm fire. No one was injured, fire officials said.

All four units in the building where the fire originated were heavily damaged by flames, and all six units in a second building touched by the fire sustained water damage, the officials said.

The Red Cross assisted two of the families, and the others were able to make arrangements through insurance companies or with friends or family, said Ken Smallwood, disaster-support specialist for the Howard County and Anne Arundel County Red Cross.

"We serve as a helping hand to get them started again," Smallwood said. Red Cross donations will cover the cost of food and three nights at a local hotel, he said.

When the families have made other arrangements, the Red Cross can provide them linens, beds, pots and pans - all donations to the organization, Smallwood said.

Tuesday's fire was the second major apartment building fire in the county in two months. A blaze Nov. 12 at the Lazy Hollow Apartments in Columbia's Long Reach village displaced 25 residents and caused about $750,000 in damage to the 14-unit building and its contents, fire officials said.

No one was injured. The fire started in a faulty heating unit in a closet of one of the apartments, Jones said.

Capt. Garry Chandler of the Life Safety Bureau of the Howard fire department said apartment dwellers face particular fire safety challenges. A typical apartment building will have from six to 12 residents who all have different lifestyles, he said.

"Much of what happens in a building is beyond your control," Chandler said.

Apartment dwellers may not know if their neighbors smoke, use small cooking appliances or burn candles - all of which can be fire hazards that endanger the entire building, he said.

Residents must work with the building managers to ensure that smoke detectors and other alarms are properly installed and working, Chandler said.

In the two recent apartment fires, smoke alarms were operational, officials said.

It's also helpful to be familiar with fellow residents, Chandler said. That way, if there is a fire, people can let firefighters know whether their neighbors might be home or have special needs, he said.

Chandler also advised that renters take out an insurance policy to help recoup losses in the event of a fire.

"So many people just skip insurance," he said. "But they should see the look on people's faces when they realize they may get another apartment, but that's it."

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