Hurdles posed by fire detailed

28,000-square-foot house was destroyed last month

Design features caused problems

Remote site, lack of access to water hampered effort


April 01, 2004|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

The remote location, architectural and landscaping features, and a need to quickly search for occupants were bigger problems than difficulties in obtaining water to battle a blaze that destroyed a 28,000-square-foot Clarksville mansion last month, Howard fire officials told western county residents last night.

Chief Joseph A. Herr, head of Howard's Department of Fire and Rescue Services, said tankers had to rush thousands of gallons of water to the scene but that firefighters "never ran out of water," a top concern for many residents of the area because there is no municipal water supply and no hydrants in that part of the county.

About 30 people heard Herr and other fire officials discuss the March 12 fire during a meeting in the community. The blaze caused more than $6 million in property damage but no serious injuries or fatalities.

Investigators found that the fire was caused by children burning paper outside the home in the 12700 block of Maryvale Court.

Fire officials said several factors hampered firefighters. Initially, they thought there were people inside the house, so 14 firefighters searched the premises before large amounts of water were poured onto the flames, officials said.

The fire, which began in the garage, quickly raced into a large, open attic and spread across the top of the house, which Deputy Chief David W. Moynihan of the Clarksville Volunteer Fire Department called a "worst-case possibility."

Other challenges were posed by the house's architecture and landscaping. Its roof and attic were built with wooden trusses that were light and structurally safe but fed the fire, officials said.

Also, two pillars flanking the driveway limited firetrucks access to the front of the house. Only one truck at a time could get close enough to the house to pump water on it, officials said.

Herr and other fire officials explained that with no hydrants nearby, a shuttle operation was used. Water was picked up by tankers and engines, and deposited in pool-like portable basins set up near the burning house. Firefighters drew water from the basins to pump an estimated 600 gallons a minute onto the blaze.

Fire crews used several tankers to draw water from nearby cisterns, a pond and the nearest hydrant, at least three miles away off Route 108. They had pumped 250,000 gallons onto the fire by the time it was extinguished, officials said.

Howard crews were assisted by firefighters from Carroll and Montgomery counties.

Some residents asked that the fire department give their communities the locations of the nearest cisterns and natural water sources so that could be better prepared.

Moynihan compared the fire's ferocity to a California wildfire.

"We would have gladly put more lines on the fire. We just couldn't get them in there," Clarksville Fire Chief F. Patrick Marlatt said.

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