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Firefighters battle afternoon apartment blaze for hours

July 16, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A tenant and a firefighter were taken to Washington County Hospital following a fire Friday afternoon that damaged two apartment buildings on West Washington Street.

Both were treated and released later Friday, a spokeswoman for the hospital said. An official with the fire department said a second firefighter also was taken to the hospital and released later in the day.

Shortly after the fire began, flames and heavy smoke could be seen coming from the top floor windows of 614-616 W. Washington St.

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Spectators standing along the street covered their mouths and noses with their shirts as a cloud of thick, black smoke hung over them.

Eventually, a Hagerstown Police Department officer roped off an area of the block to keep onlookers back.

Sections of West Washington and Antietam streets, as well as other nearby streets, were closed for hours as firefighters and emergency crews worked at the scene.

The fire started at 614-616 W. Washington St. and spread to the attic of 610 W. Washington St., which is next door, Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said.

The blaze was well under way when firefighters were called about 12:50 p.m., Hawbaker said.

"Heavy fire and heavy black smoke" was coming out of the front and back of 614 W. Washington St. and spread to another building when firefighters arrived, he said.

"So, all that happened before we were called," Hawbaker said. "There seemed to be some type of delay in notifying us."

Hawbaker said he didn't know the cause of the fire and that the Hagerstown fire marshal is investigating.

He said personnel who first responded to the scene were kept busy by the fire until others arrived to assist.

"We've been hydrating them and trying to get as many fresh (firefighters) as we can," Hawbaker said.

Hawbaker said he didn't know how many families were inside the buildings, but that the American Red Cross was called to assist.

Antonio Belk, who lives at 632 W. Washington St., said he and his aunt were outside when the fire started.

His aunt called the police and he helped get people out of the building.

"We were sitting on the porch. I looked down and saw the smoke, and that's when we just started helping people out," Belk said.

Belk, 17, said he saw flames and smoke coming out of the right side of 614-616 W. Washington St.

Thomas Stotelmyer, who lives at 620 W. Washington St., said he received a phone call at work about the blaze.

After arriving home, he said authorities told him he had to leave the apartment building.

"They told us we have to come out because there could be a gas explosion," Stotelmyer said.

He said he didn't know when he would be allowed back in his apartment.

"I hope it isn't a long time, but they got to do what they got to do," Stotelmyer said.

Some who gathered at the scene said they thought the fire might have been caused by lightning, saying the blaze started shortly after they saw a bright flash and heard a loud bang.

"I heard this really, really loud crash," said Jen Rosensteel, who lives at 624 W. Washington St. "I figured it was probably lightning ... It sounded like it just hit."

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