Heat exhaustion, burns hospitalize five Md. firefighters


By Brent Jones
The Baltimore Sun

WOODLAWN, Md. — A four-alarm blaze in the Woodlawn area yesterday afternoon destroyed two apartment buildings in a residential neighborhood and sent five firefighters to the hospital with heat exhaustion, burns and other minor injuries, Baltimore County fire officials said.

Another man was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation, fire officials said. The man's injury was not believed to be serious.

The fire began about 2:30 p.m. in the first block of Giard Drive at the Queens Ridge Apartments. Elise Armacost, a Fire Department spokeswoman, said the burned buildings contained 11 apartments each, and that no residents had been reported missing as of last night.

Armacost said fire officials will not be certain everyone got out safely until a search is conducted.

"They made a valiant effort to go into it but had to go back because it was so much fire, it was unsafe to them," Armacost said.

A spokesman for the American Red Cross said the organization is helping about 15 families displaced by the fire.

Firefighters battled the blaze well into the evening, as neighbors and residents looked on. Fire officials said the damage to the building where the fire originated was so severe that investigators will not be allowed inside. That building will have to be demolished, and the rubble will be searched.

A steady afternoon wind spread the fire quickly and kept firefighters from entering the building where it started. The burned dwellings, which residents and fire officials called Building No. 7 and Building No. 9, are attached.

Fire investigators are not sure what ignited the blaze, which started in Building No. 7.

Jerson Peralta, 30, said he lived on the first floor of that building. Peralta was at work when the fire began, but his wife was home and left their apartment when she heard the alarm, he said.

Peralta said that he and his wife moved into the two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment about a month ago.

"Now I just have what I have on," he said. "I lost everything."

Raja Banaras, 25, said he has lived in Building No. 7 with his two children for 18 months. He said he was not home when the fire started but that his kids were. They made it out without injury, Banaras said.

Banaras said he wasn't sure where he was going to take his family.

"This is so sad," Banaras said. "And I had cats and doves inside my apartment."

Neighbors and residents described the apartment complex as peaceful, with few problems.

One resident said this was the second fire in the complex since October.

Tameka Brown, who lives in the closest building to the fire, said a fence in the complex caught fire, damaging trees but no property.

Alondra Alavez said she lives in the same building as Brown and was in her kitchen yesterday when she smelled smoke.

Alavez said she ran outside and saw the buildings on fire. She saw a couple of residents fleeing the first building and watched as firefighters rescued a woman from the third floor.

Fire officials were unable to confirm Alavez's account last night.

The fire sent up a cloud of smoke that was visible for miles. Anthony Williams, 22, said he was leaving his job at Security Square Mall when he noticed the darkened sky and heard trucks racing down the street.

Williams, who lives in Baltimore City, went to the scene of the fire to offer help.

"Smoke was everywhere," Williams said.

Residents of the second building, which was not as badly damaged, will eventually be allowed to collect their belongings, fire officials said.

The firefighters' injuries are thought to be minor; further details were not available. Fire officials said about 30 engines and 120 firefighters, along with other personnel, were at the scene.
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