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Apartment fire displaces tenants

June 06, 1998

By LAURA ERNDE

and TERRY TALBERT

Staff Writers

Romeo the dog was recovering at Park Circle Animal Hospital after fire swept through his South Prospect Street apartment building Friday morning, leaving his owner and nine other tenants homeless.

No people were hurt when the fire broke out at 269-271 S. Prospect St., near the intersection of Walnut Street.

The Maryland Fire Marshal's Office was investigating the cause of the blaze.

Apartment manager and maintenance man Richard Charles Kemp Sr., who lives in a basement apartment, said he was sitting on the front porch of the home talking to tenant Charley Hutzell when he smelled smoke.

"I went in (Hutzell's apartment) and all I could see were flames in the living room. The kitchen looked like it was already fully involved," Kemp said. He said he and rescue workers pulled a first-floor tenant out of a side window to safety.

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"He works night shift. He was sleeping," Kemp said.

As Kemp talked, Hagerstown firefighters broke out second-floor windows of the charred building and went inside. Moments later they came out carrying a medium-sized dog.

Rescue workers gave oxygen to the unconscious but still breathing animal, laid him in the back of a pickup truck, and drove the pet to nearby Park Circle Animal Hospital.

When Kemp saw the animal he broke down in tears. "Oh, God, I forgot about the guy upstairs' dog," he said. "God, I forgot all about his dog."

Rescue workers also found a kitten in the building, but veterinarian Lindsay Kerfoot said it did not survive.

Romeo, whose owner was at work and could not be reached Friday, is expected to recover, she said.

Kerfoot gave the dog oxygen for his smoke inhalation and antibiotics to prevent lung infection. She was keeping him there overnight for observation.

The Red Cross offered shelter, food and clothing to the tenants, said Cindy Blackstock Kline, director of emergency services.

Kline welcomed anyone wishing to help to make a donation to the Red Cross.

The apartment building sustained about $20,000 damage, mostly from smoke and heat, firefighters said.

Hutzell's apartment, where the fire is believed to have started, was filled with paper and all kinds of junk that fueled the fire, firefighters said.

There are 11 efficiency apartments in the building. Nine were rented, said owner John H. Frantz.

Frantz, of Hagerstown, was visiting his mother about a three-hour drive away when he got the bad news. The building is insured, he said.

A "for sale" sign stood in the front lawn.

As smoke poured from the building, on a nearby grassy area medics attended to several firefighters. None were seriously hurt.

Down Prospect Street, tenant Hutzell was picking pink flowers. He carried a quart of milk he said he saved from the fire, along with his cigarettes.

Asked if he lived in the building, Hutzell giggled. "I used to," he said. "It went up something like a Molotov cocktail ... I got a lot of literature in there from Billy Graham."

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