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5 children charged in fire

July 10, 1998

photo: MIKE CRUPI / staff photographer

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Children charged in fireBy MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer

A sparkler tossed through a window caused a July 4 fire that resulted in $50,000 damage to a Hagerstown home and led authorities to file criminal charges against five children on Wednesday.

John Hersh, Hagerstown assistant fire marshal, said the children, ranging in ages from 8 to 14, were in the yard around 9 p.m. playing with sparklers, which are legal in Maryland.

"But they were throwing them ... at each other and at the house," Hersh said.

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He said the youngsters were without adult supervision.

One of the sparklers went through a window off the back porch of the duplex at 442-444 W. Church St., sparking the 9 p.m. fire, he said.

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The three girls and two boys face one count each of reckless endangerment, Hersh said. He filed the charges with the Department of Juvenile Justice in Washington County.

"With that much damage and the reckless nature of their actions, I had to charge them," Hersh said. "We've got to get the word out about the danger."

Hagerstown Fire Marshal Tom Brown said that in his 23 years with the Hagerstown Fire Department, he couldn't remember a fire linked to fireworks that caused as much damage.

"It was a classic example of legal fireworks being used illegally," Brown said. "The lack of adult supervision was also a big problem."

Hersh said the label on sparklers clearly states they are to be held or stuck in the ground. Adult supervision is a must, he said.

A woman at the scene the night of the fire said the youngsters were supposed to be playing in the back yard with the sparklers.

The owner of the house, Althea Lowe, was insured for her loss, Hersh said. The renters were uninsured.

People who had been inside the duplex got out when the fire was first discovered.

Firefighters brought the blaze under control in about 10 minutes, Hersh said.

The rear of the home was heavily charred.

Hersh recalled an incident a number of years ago in which a roof was damaged on a home off Locust Street in a fire blamed on fireworks.

Neither Hersh nor Brown said they expected any legal action to be taken against the adults who lived in the duplex.

Staff Writer David McMillion contributed to this story.

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