Three people were arrested and charged with setting a fire in a Pikesville apartment building yesterday that left 30 residents homeless and produced 10-foot flames and billowing smoke that was visible for miles.
No one was injured in the three-alarm blaze, which began about 9:30 a.m., fire officials said.
Baltimore County police said late yesterday that a man and two female juveniles were in custody on arson charges.
Their identities were not immediately available.
It took about 75 firefighters more than an hour to control the fire, which heavily damaged a three-story building in the Owings Chase complex in the 4400 block of Old Court Road.
An adjacent building also was damaged. The complex was formerly known as Prescott Square Apartments.
Fire investigators are trying to determine where and how the fire started. Officials said it appeared to have started in the bedroom of a second-floor apartment.
`Like a blast furnace'
"It looked almost like a blast furnace," said Capt. Glenn A. Blackwell, a Fire Department spokesman.
Last month, police searched an apartment in the building as part of a drug investigation.
However, Bill Toohey, a police spokesman said, "There is nothing to link today's fire with that."
Charred living room furniture dangled near a second-floor patio as smoke, visible west of the Beltway, poured from the top of the building.
Firefighters cut a trench in the roof of an adjoining building to prevent the flames from spreading, Blackwell said.
Sprinkler systems were not required when the apartment complex was built more than 30 years ago. However, fire codes require residential buildings such as the one that burned to have hard-wired smoke detectors.
Blackwell said it wasn't immediately clear whether the smoke detectors were working properly when the fire broke out, but added that everyone was able to escape before flames started shooting through the roof.
Firefighters rescued a cat, a puppy and a boa constrictor from the apartments.
"Fortunately, most people had already gone to work or school," Blackwell said.
William Caffee, who lives in the building next to the one where the fire started, was getting ready to go to the post office and do some other errands when someone started screaming, "Get out! There's a fire!"
Caffee, who requires oxygen therapy, was able to move his tank and get out of his apartment. But he only had time to grab a pair of pants.
"I couldn't even get my shoes," he said. "I was only wearing my robe. When I saw the flames, I felt grateful and said a prayer of thanks that I escaped."
Charvette Jacobs-Bey was also thankful after she rushed to the charred remains of the building, unsure whether her daughter, Dai McMiller, 24, would be among those displaced.
Her daughter's apartment was not damaged.
"It was a frightening sight," said Jacobs-Bey, who saw the smoke from Old Court Middle School, where she has another daughter in seventh grade. "You don't want to see anyone displaced, especially this time of year when its so cold. I'm glad no one was hurt."