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Investigators seek cause of fire that took woman's life, critically injured 3 others

April 19, 2012|By DAN DEARTH and C.J. LOVELACE | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Flames shoot through the windows on the top floor of a home at 334 Summit Ave. in Hagerstown Wednesday afternoon.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Hagerstown fire officials planned to spend most of Thursday investigating the cause of a fatal house fire on Summit Avenue that claimed the life of a city woman and critically injured three others, including a 3-year-old girl, Fire Chief W. Kyd Dieterich said.

Dieterich said Thursday morning that he didn’t have an update on the names or the medical conditions of the girl and two men who were injured in the fire at 334 Summit Ave.

“I’ve had better days,” Dieterich said.

The woman’s body was recovered inside the third-floor apartment where she and her family lived, officials confirmed Wednesday night.

A man in his 40s and the girl were taken by ambulance to Meritus Medical Center, city spokeswoman Erin Wolfe said in a news release. The man had severe burns and the girl was being treated for smoke inhalation, she said.

A 65-year-old man was later taken to Meritus to be treated for burns to his back and smoke inhalation, Wolfe said.

The victims are family members — a husband and wife, their daughter and the mother’s father, Wolfe said.

Neither city nor fire officials would release the names of any of the victims.

“Everything else is under investigation,” Dieterich said.

One firefighter from the Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway also was taken to Meritus to be treated for heat exhaustion, but was expected to be released, Wolfe said.

A man and a woman in a basement apartment got out of the building safely, but are now displaced as a result, Dieterich said.

During the blaze, which was first reported at 12:40 p.m., Hagerstown Firefighter John Murray, wearing a respirator and full turnout gear, sprinted from the top floor of the house down an outside flight of stairs carrying the naked, soot-covered girl clutched in his arms.

The firefighter placed the motionless girl on her back in the grass. She lay there unconscious with her arms sprawled to her sides as other firefighters hurried to assist.

Firefighters put a portable ventilator on the girl and placed her on a gurney before rushing her to the back of a waiting ambulance on Summit Avenue. Hagerstown police officers rushed to provide the ambulance with an escort to the hospital. 

As smoke and flames poured from the house, firefighters shot water through windows from a ladder truck, while others sprayed water from the streets.

Wolfe said firefighters had a good supply of water, but also drew water from the nearby lake at City Park as an additional resource.

At 3:10 p.m., firefighters began to roll up their hoses.

James Burns, who owns the home and lives next door at 326 Summit Ave., said a family of three lived in an upstairs apartment of the home.

Witnesses said another man might have been visiting the family at the time of the fire.

Burns said he saw smoke and asked a neighbor to call 911. He said he entered the building, where he found the male resident, who was able to escape.

Burns said he did not see the woman or child who lived there.

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He said he tried to direct firefighters with ladders to a third-floor window in an attempt to reach anyone who might be inside.

“They’re good people. I hope everyone is all right,” Burns said.

A tenant of a downstairs apartment was believed to be away on a business trip, Burns said.

The house sits at the corner of Summit Avenue and Sycamore Street, near the railroad tracks at Park Circle.

Jeff Lynn, who owns Park Circle Service Center, said he saw flames at least 10 feet high shooting from the roof before firefighters arrived. He also said he saw a cat jump from a third-floor window.

“It wobbled a little, but it looked like it was OK,” Lynn said.

Heavy smoke from the fire could be seen from downtown, as several streets were closed to traffic in the area.

Hagerstown police detectives, Deputy State’s Attorney Joe Michael, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman and city-code enforcement officials were also on the scene.

Units from the Hagerstown Fire Department, as well as Halfway, Maugansville, Long Meadow, Funkstown, special operations support units and fire police responded to the fire. Community Rescue Service provided EMS support.

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