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Fire breaks out at Walnut Towers

January 13, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

An early morning fire at a downtown Hagerstown apartment complex Saturday prompted the evacuation of more than 30 residents, displaced one renter and sent five people to the hospital.

About 50 firefighters and emergency medical workers responded to the 7 a.m. fire at the Hagerstown Housing Authority's Walnut Towers at 11 S. Walnut St., Hagerstown Battalion Chief Ron Horn said.

Firefighters found the third floor of the three-story building full of thick black smoke when they arrived on the scene, Horn said. Firefighters traced the fire, the cause of which is still under investigation, to a couch in a third-floor apartment, he said.

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Third-floor resident Donnie Light lives next door to the apartment in which the fire started.

"I could smell the smoke and I heard the fire snapping against the wall and crackling," he said. "I went out to the balcony and I could see the flames."

Lola Snyder, who lives on the first floor, called firefighters when she heard alarms sounding in the building, she said. Snyder and neighbor Judy Files then began helping other residents out of their homes, they said.

"We went around knocking on doors and getting people out," Files said.

"We couldn't get to the third floor because it was filled with smoke," Snyder said.

Residents of the top two floors of the building, which houses 48 apartments, were evacuated. The process was complicated by the age and physical disabilities of many residents, Horn said.

One of the complex's estimated 55 residents was taken to the hospital with chest pains, three residents were treated for smoke inhalation and a firefighter was treated for a cut to his hand, Horn said. None of the injuries was life-threatening, he said.

The resident of the apartment in which the fire started was not injured, Horn said. That woman received clothing from the local Red Cross and temporarily will stay with relatives, said Joyce Martin, a disaster services volunteer.

Other third-floor residents were moved back into their apartments late Saturday morning after the hallway floors were cleaned, said Mike Stoner, deputy director of property for the Housing Authority. Housing Authority workers will continue to scrub smoke residue from the walls throughout the week, he said.

"It's going to take some serious wall scrubbing to get it all cleaned up," said Stoner, who lauded the fire department's quick response to the scene.

It took about one hour to get the situation under control, Horn said.

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