Dogs outside prompt notice

2 were outdoors after fire consumed home

Animal Control contacted family

Summer heat raised concern

Temporary arrangement, says member of family

August 06, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

When Xaver Gramkow met insurance adjusters yesterday morning outside the remains of his fire-ravaged house, he thought nothing else could possibly go wrong.

But tacked to the dog pen in the back yard, he found a notice from the Howard County Police Department suggesting that he needs to take better care of his dogs.

"It's frustrating," Gramkow said. "I've lost my house, and they leave me this?"

Behind him, his Tudor-style home, its roof gone, sat exposed to the sun. White lace curtains hang in the front-room windows, stirring in the wind, but little else survived. The smell of burnt wood and plaster hangs in the air.

The Clarksville home, which Gramkow and his family spent the past decade building and improving, caught fire about 3:30 p.m. Saturday after being struck by lightning as storms tore through Maryland. Within half an hour - the time it took to reach 911, which was flooded with lightning-strike calls - most of the house was in flames, according to Gramkow and fire officials.

Next-door neighbor David Cooke was sitting in his back room with his wife and 3-year- old daughter when he heard the thunder crack. Thinking a tree had been hit, he ran outside and saw smoke coming from the Gramkows' roof.

"I tried to get the garden hose," Cooke said, "but by then, the house was up in flames."

More than 40 firefighters and personnel and 17 cars and trucks from Howard County Fire and Rescue responded to put out the six-alarm fire, which took about four hours to extinguish. Officials estimate that the blaze caused nearly $800,000 in damage.

When lightning hit, the family was inside napping - Gramkow, his wife and two of their sons, ages 6 and 8 (the eldest son, 14, was away at camp). They got out safely after another neighbor saw flames on the roof licking skyward and banged on their door.

"It doesn't take much to destroy everything," Cooke said. "I feel bad for them. They lost wedding pictures and personal things, but the important thing is that they're all right."

The Gramkows were able to grab a few belongings - some photos, two file cabinets and two cuckoo clocks - but weren't able to save all of their pets.

The family lost two turtles, a crab and all of the fish in their tank. They were able to save their bird, hamster, two guinea pigs and all three dogs, two of which stayed on the grounds, while everyone else went to Gramkow's in-laws in Dayton. The family will stay there until its insurance company finds them a temporary home.

The two black Labradors stayed behind in a pen in the back yard, which contains two doghouses - one wooden, one plastic - for shelter. Typically, the dogs are kept inside during hot days, but the weekend was anything but typical for the Gramkows, who asked a neighbor to look after the dogs until housing was arranged.

Pfc. Denise Walk, spokeswoman for the Howard County Police Department, said Animal Control got a call about 5 a.m. Sunday from firefighters apparently checking on the house and worried about the animals staying outside in the heat.

An animal control officer was sent to investigate and left the note as part of standard procedure, Walk said. The note said a complaint was received claiming that the animals were receiving inadequate care and that the owners would be required to respond, as well as provide proof of rabies vaccinations and licensing for the animals.

Walk said fines for noncompliance start at $25 per violation. No deadline was given.

Cooke said he and a firefighter rescued the dogs Saturday after being told they were locked in the laundry room inside the burning house. The third dog was with the family outside.

"We're not a close neighborhood. ... But when something like this happens, it really pulls us all together," Cooke said.

Gramkow said community members have pitched in, and he is grateful for their help. Now, he and his family are turning their focus to the future and rebuilding.

"There's nothing to do now but tear it down and start again," Gramkow said. "And I will - I will build it again."

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