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Homes Burn

Blaze destroys 2 houses, damages 2 more

Blaze destroys 2 houses, damages 2 more

April 01, 2006|By PEPPER BALLARD

PEN MAR

Like icing spread too soon on a just-baked cake, the gray siding of the house at 24801 Linden Ave. separated and dripped under a bright, 350-degree heat early Friday.

And while the home's owners, Richard and Virginia Newcomer, darted from their sweltering house, a hot, bright fire across the street was growing bigger, nearly devouring one vacant home before starting to devour the house beside it, from which a family of three escaped.

By the time the Newcomers got out, the fire was nipping at a third house. And while 80 to 100 firefighters worked to keep it from spreading, the Newcomers and their newly homeless neighbors stood and watched.

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The 1:10 a.m., two-alarm fire burned the first two houses ? 24808 and 24810 Pen Mar Road ? to the ground. Another family of three escaped 24812 Pen Mar Road before the fire burned a gaping hole into its second story and roof.

That blue house, owned by William Fulmor, was vacant by Friday afternoon. A strip of blue melted siding dangled over an Americana steel star tacked between two second-story windows. Donald Crider's 24812 Pen Mar Road house was nothing but charred rubble. That and the vacant house were being doused with water by firefighters from Leitersburg and Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.

Neighbors lingered, looking over the rubble, and exchanged stories about when they heard the firetrucks blare up the mountain or when they saw the blaze from their bedroom windows. Some took pictures. Some sat and watched the crews work.

For Charles Trite, the blaze hit "a little too close to home."

His 24816 Pen Mar Road stone house was next in line.

Trite, 76, and his wife, Betty, 73, have lived there for 54 years. He said a little siding was melted, but the house was spared, probably because it's a stone structure, unlike the first three, which were early 20th-century wood structures.

The cause of the fire had not been determined, but, according to a release from the Maryland State Fire Marshal, it started in the grass and caused a combined $450,000 worth of damage to the homes. About $75,000 worth of belongings were lost.

Richard and Virginia Newcomer said they were lucky. They stared at the rubble with sad eyes.

"I've never seen anything so fast," Virginia said of the fire. "It all happened at the same time."

Kirk Mongan, chief of the Leitersburg Volunteer Fire Co., said the first two houses were engulfed when crews arrived. He sent the fire into a second alarm, calling on firefighters from stations in Pennsylvania and in Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland.

"To be honest, I can't name how many companies," Mongan said. It took about three hours to control the fire.

On top of that, crews had obstacles. Mongan said firefighters not only had to fight the fires at the three houses and try to prevent it from spreading to Trite's house, they also had to fight a brush fire, which spread to about an acre of land.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources on Friday issued a ban on all open-air burning in all areas of the state, except Garrett County, due to "extremely dry conditions, high winds and low relative humidity," according to a written release.

Mongan said he is sure those conditions contributed to the fire's spread.

An "apparently charged" power line fell across Pen Mar Road, making it impassable while crews worked the fires, he said.

Also, Mongan said, crews were about a mile away from water supplies.

"We kept running out of water," he said.

Trite commended the crews for sparing his house and others.

The Washington County Chapter of the American Red Cross assisted the Crider and Fulmor families, said Cindy Blackstock, the chapter's director of emergency services.

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