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Fire forces out four families

February 20, 2007|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - Four families were forced from their apartments by a fire that sent smoke billowing from a house on West Washington Street in Hagerstown Monday night.

As dozens of people gathered on the street in front of the red brick home at 750-752 W. West Washington St. to watch the scene, one woman in a denim jacket sobbed into her sleeves.

Hagerstown Fire Department Battalion Chief Randy Myers said no one was hurt in the blaze, which displaced four families.

Personnel initially believed the incident was not serious, but then they discovered fire in the walls, Myers said.

"It became apparent very quickly that we had a major problem, and conditions deteriorated very quickly," Myers said.

The fire was reported at 5:46 p.m., and firefighters left the scene at about 10 p.m., a Washington County Emergency Services dispatcher said.

As firefighters broke out windows in the home's upper floors, people stood in clusters up and down the street. Some took pictures with camera phones. One boy climbed a heap of dirty snow to get a better look.

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Belinda Johnson said she moved into the building a few weeks ago. On Monday, she said, she gave landlord Michael Grams $420 toward rent. She said she did not know where she and her 10-year-old daughter would be staying Monday night.

Myers said he did not know the cause of the fire.

After talking to firefighters, Grams said he believed any ideas about the fire's source still were speculative. According to Maryland tax records, Michael and Lisa Grams, of 223 Calvary Drive in Winchester, Va., own the home.

The home has four apartments, including three for tenants with Section 8 vouchers, Grams said.

Candy Barrett, 24, said she moved into the building in July. She lived there with her baby, who turns 9 months old Wednesday, she said.

Barrett said when she got home she saw the smoke.

"I ran up and got my dog real quick and ran out," Barrett said.

Across the street from the home, some people coughed as they watched. Chris Brodka, who lives on Elgin Boulevard, said he could see the smoke from his home.

He said he works on fire- and flood-reconstruction projects.

"It's a tragedy. I've seen a lot in a lot worse condition, though. The biggest thing is that you don't have loss of life, or pets," said Brodka, who stood with his arms wrapped around his 13-year-old daughter.

Johnson said she just bought new furnishings for her apartment, and she had little money left over.

"I mean, I have a couple dollars in my wallet, but I can't even go up there and get it," Johnson said.

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