Fire guts basement

tenants escape

September 03, 2005|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ


Hagerstown firefighters worked into the afternoon Friday battling a fire on West Washington Street.

Firefighters responded to a basement fire at 154-160 W. Washington St. about 9:40 a.m. The building is home to Hagerstown Reproductive Health Services and six apartment units, fire officials said.

The building's occupants escaped unharmed, but several crews of firefighters working in shifts were forced to contend with heat and exhaustion as they sought to find, contain and extinguish a series of small, hidden fires that spread throughout the building from the basement, Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said.

"We arrived at the scene and saw we had a working basement fire," Hawbaker said. "It's extended into the walls, the ceilings and the floors. It's in confined spaces, traveling between three and four spaces."


By 12:30 p.m. Hawbaker said he believed firefighters had put out all of the small flames, though crews remained on the scene into the early afternoon to be sure and to assess the damage.

Fire police blocked off West Washington Street and an alley to its north between Prospect and Jonathan streets until about 2 p.m., creating traffic backups along the city's parallel eastbound roads until the closures were lifted.

Fire damage was kept to the basement, though there was additional damage throughout the building related to the firefighters' attempts to locate and extinguish the spreading flames, Hawbaker said. He declined to estimate damage to the building, which was assessed at $329,933 according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.

Stephen Sagi, owner of the building, said he had made arrangements to put the residents up at other units he owns in the city at the request of the fire department. Sagi said he did not know the extent of damage to the building's upper floors, though he was pretty sure "the basement is trashed."

Cindy Blackstock, director of emergency services for the Washington County chapter of the American Red Cross, said her organization was prepared to offer assistance to the dislocated tenants as needed.

Reached by telephone, Hagerstown Reproductive Health Services Director Diane Silas said she was inside the building when she began to see smoke coming from the floor of a hallway inside the clinic. She said no patients had scheduled appointments for Friday, though she spent much of the day contacting staff and patients to let them know of the fire.

Silas did not know whether she will be able to continue to operate out of the building.

"We are trying to handle one step at a time," she said.

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