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Flames, smoke fill apartments

July 03, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Flames and heavy smoke coming from the basement drove three residents out of their 36 E. Franklin St. apartment building and into the street Tuesday to escape Hagers-town's second two-alarm fire in less than two months.

One Hagerstown firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion as sweltering temperatures took their toll at the fire scene.

"The heat is why I called for the second alarm almost immediately," Hagerstown Fire Battalion Chief Ron Horn said.

The fire was first reported at 4:54 p.m. and was out within 25 minutes. Firefighters remained on the scene until 7:48 p.m.

"The cause of the fire is under investigation, but it doesn't appear to be suspicious," Hagers-town Fire Marshal Doug DeHaven said. He confirmed that six people lived in the building.

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The basement was gutted and the first and second floors had heat and smoke damage. With no electricity in the building, it was declared uninhabitable, DeHaven said.

No damage estimate was available Tuesday night, DeHaven said.

Rush-hour traffic clogged all the streets parallel to Franklin Street as Hagerstown Fire Police attempted to keep vehicles moving smoothly.

Curious crowds began to gather as soon as the alarm sounded.

"I was in Meda's Tavern across the street when I looked out the window and saw smoke and flames coming from the basement of the apartment building," Clarissa Harvey said.

Harvey, who lives at 128 Wayside Ave., said she ran across the street and into the two-story brick building, where she found building co-owner Nancy Alas-Canas in the second-floor apartment.

"I helped get her down out of the building," Harvey said.

Alas-Canas suffered some smoke inhalation and was treated at the scene, Hagerstown Police Chief Art Smith said. She refused transport to Washington County Hospital.

On the first floor, Shaquitia Nelson and her uncle, Robert Nelson, heard smoke detectors going off in the building just about the time Harvey was running across the street.

"Then we could smell the smoke, so we got outside," 11-year-old Shaquitia said.

Within minutes, Ernestine Nelson and her daughter, Sharon Nelson, had each gotten calls at work and were hurrying home to survey the damage to the apartment they have shared for five years.

"I thank the Lord that my son Robert is safe," Ernestine Nelson said. "He usually is sleeping this time of day in the basement."

The Nelson family gathered on the porch of the building next door to shed a few tears but also to celebrate that they were together and uninjured. Still there was sadness over the loss of possessions and a beloved pet.

"I don't know if my bird is alive," Ernestine Nelson said.

DeHaven said later Tuesday that the pet bird didn't survive the fire.

Joseph Uddin, 20, lives in the first block of East Washington Street.

"I was looking out the window and I saw red flames and a lot of smoke," Uddin said.

Uddin said he watched as firefighters broke through the front door of the burning building.

"Flames shot out and they went in," he said.

"I was like, oh my God. When I got here, there was nothing but black smoke in front of the whole building," Uddin said.

Judy Wolfe said she heard about the fire on the scanner and came down because she was intrigued.

"I'm used to this because my husband was a volunteer firefighter for a while. It could have been worse, but it's still unfortunate," said Wolfe, 46, of Hagerstown.

Firefighters were aided by personnel from Halfway as well as the Washington County Air Unit with air bottle refills and the Rehab van, which was called upon to provide cold drinks for the firefighters.

DeHaven said Francisco and Nancy Alas-Canas have insurance on the building they just recently purchased.

Contacted at the building next to the fire scene, co-owner Francisco Alas-Canas said he and his wife had a place to stay for the night.

"I wasn't home when it started but my wife was," he said.

Tuesday's fire is the second two-alarm fire in Hagerstown in 2002. A May 19 fire at 38-40 Randolph Ave., which started on the second floor, was described as suspicious and remains under investigation.

Staff writers Dan Kulin and Liz Boch contributed to this story.

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