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Fire guts duplex

January 31, 2000

George St. fireBy KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




Flames ripped through a two-story duplex and spread to the roof on a neighboring duplex in Hagerstown's West End Monday evening, leaving at least nine people homeless, according to the Hagerstown Fire Department.

cont. from front page

The two-alarm fire erupted around 7:30 p.m. at 620-622 George St., owned by Thomas Reilly, according to Hagerstown Fire Department Chief Gary Hawbaker.

Thomas and Irene Reilly lived at 620 George St. where the blaze is believed to have started, said Hawbaker.

Hawbaker said the fire quickly spread to the adjoining unit at 622 George St., which was occupied by the Reillys' son and daughter-in-law, Thomas Reilly Jr. and Penny Reilly.

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Both units were gutted, Hawbaker said.

The wind blew the flames toward the duplex at 616-618 George St. and the roof of that building caught fire. The unit at 618 had fire, smoke and water damage, said Hawbaker.

Firefighters from 22 companies successfully worked to keep the flames from spreading to 616 George St., and that unit had only smoke damage, he said.

Doug Diehl of Smithsburg was at work when a friend notified him that the building he owns and rents out at 616-618 George St. might have been on fire.

Diehl said he rushed to the duplex and was relieved to find his tenants were not injured in the fire.

One woman and her child live at 616 George St. and another woman and her two children live at 618, Diehl said.

Diehl said he believed that his tenants would be able stay with relatives but offered to put them up at area hotels if needed.

The owners of both buildings said they had insurance.

Thomas Reilly said he and his wife left their home around 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. Monday to visit relatives and returned to find it engulfed in flames.

Reilly said his wife had prepared dinner earlier that evening but didn't think they had left the stove on.

Thomas Reilly Jr. and Penny Reilly were at home watching television when their dog Pebbles started to bark and jump up, he said.

The couple ran out of the house and then Thomas Reilly Jr. ran next door to rescue his father's dogs, he said.

Penny Reilly said she ran back inside to get Pebbles. "I couldn't see a thing and I couldn't breathe," she said.

Flames from the roof of the duplex rose more than 20 feet into the air and Hagerstown firefighters used their ladder truck to shoot a direct stream of water at the top of the building.

Fire investigator Mike Weller was at the scene and made some preliminary observations but a more in-depth analysis of the blaze would come today, he said.

Weller said examining the building will be difficult because the force of the water directed at the roof could have shifted the contents of the building or knocked down beams.

Several firefighters came out of the building gasping for breath and one collapsed, although Washington County Emergency Services dispatchers said no one was taken to the hospital.

Fire shot from the front windows of both sides of the Reilly homes and pieces of the roof and siding crashed to the ground. Firefighters used a thermal imaging camera to look for hotspots inside the building.

Burnt icicle-type Christmas lights dangled from the building and caught on a nearby utility line.

The building's cream-colored siding was melted by the fire, revealing blue paint that was charred in some sections.

All four Reillys stood outside in the slush as water from the fire hoses ran down the street and formed puddles more than 6 inches deep.

Monday's fire was the second at 620-622 George St., said the elder Thomas Reilly. A few years ago flames damaged the home, which previously was owned by his father, he said.

Penny and Thomas Reilly Jr. had recently finished remodeling their home, she said.

The younger Reillys were married in August and as a wedding gift, Penny's mother, Jane Rauth, gave them a 125-year-old bedroom suite that burned in the fire with the rest of their belongings, Rauth said.

Nearly 100 people gathered on sidewalks and stood in the slush and ice-covered street to watch the fire.

Some residents brought out water and soda for the firefighters and offered to let them inside their homes to warm up.

Hagerstown Fire Police repeatedly demanded pedestrians move back from the fire and eventually put up police tape to keep people away.

Firefighters had a difficult time getting to the fire because George Street is surrounded by narrow side roads that were covered in snow, Hawbaker said.

A car that was blocking access to the building was lifted out of the way by firefighters. A tarp was placed over the car so it would not be damaged.

Maintenance workers with the city street department were on standby to clear George Street of ice and slush following the fire.

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