Fifteen people were displaced after a fire caused an estimated $1 million in damage to a Belcamp condominium complex early Sunday morning, according to the Office of the State Fire Marshal.
No injuries or fatalities were reported, but the three story, 12-unit building suffered heavy damage, including the collapse of sections of the third story, according to a notice of investigation issued by the Fire Marshal’s Office Monday morning.
The Harford County Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits condemned the building, which is in the 1400 block of Golden Rod Court, according to the report.
The community is off Baneberry Drive, near the intersection of Route 7 and Route 543.
The fire was reported around 2:20 a.m. Sunday. It started on the balcony of Unit H on the second floor.
The unit’s occupant woke up, smelling smoke, and saw the flames on the balcony, according to the Fire Marshal’s Office report.
The resident tried to put the flames out with a fire extinguisher but could not, according to the report. Another resident activated the fire alarm and called 911.
“The building was severely damaged due to fire and water damage,” according to the Fire Marshal’s Office report. Sections of the third floor collapsed into the second floor.
The Abingdon Fire Company was the primary fire company on the scene, and about 70 firefighters were present. It took one hour to get the fire under control, according to the report.
Fifteen residents, along with “numerous pets,” were displaced. They are receiving help from the American Red Cross and Harford County Disaster Assistance, according to the report.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but “we cannot rule out discarded smoking materials,” Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver Alkire said Monday afternoon.
"Our investigators have interviewed numerous witnesses, placing the fire where cigarettes were previously discarded, and that is certainly our area of origin,” Alkire said.
He said the flames followed the typical pattern of prior fires that have started on apartment balconies, as they spread up the exterior wall to the third-floor balcony and then to the roof line.
“When it gets into that roof line, the fire is off and running,” Alkire said. “It’s incredibly difficult for the fire department to control and contain that fire.”
“We’ve seen this time and time again, not only across Harford County but across the state, where one 50-cent cigarette has caused $1 million in damage,” he added.
He said sprinklers installed on the outside of newer apartment and condo buildings help catch the fire “in its incipient stages” and extinguish it, leaving minimal damage. The exterior sprinklers were not present on the Golden Rod Court building, he said.
Alkire praised the condo resident’s “valiant attempt” to put out the fire on the balcony, the other resident pulling the fire alarm and the quick response by firefighters.
“We were extremely lucky that all those events occurred; everyone got out safely,” he said.