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Darlington house damaged by fire Thursday after ember escapes chimney

Workers contain flames in Darlington house fire until firefighters arrive

A house in downtown Darlington suffered an estimated $20,000 in damage from a fire Thursday afternoon after an ember got through a deteriorated section of the chimney and started a fire along the roof line, according to the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

Fire companies from Harford County, Cecil County and York County, Pa. were at the scene. The one-alarm blaze was reported as a "working fire," so supporting companies were dispatched automatically, according to Rich Gardiner, spokesperson for the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association.

The Darlington Volunteer Fire Company was the primary company, and it was supported by personnel from Aberdeen, Bel Air, Level, Rising Sun and Port Deposit in Cecil County and the Delta-Cardiff Volunteer Fire Company, which is based in Delta, Pa. but serves Delta and the community of Cardiff in northern Harford County.

First responders were alerted at 1:22 p.m., and the fire was contained in about 10 minutes, according to Gardiner.

The house is in the 1100 block of Main Street; the downtown thoroughfare was closed between the intersections with Route 1 and Route 161. The street reopened around 2:15 p.m., Gardiner said.

The two-story house, which is owned by Joe Squires and was built in 1920, is undergoing renovation, according to a report from the Fire Marshal's Office.

Two construction workers were in the house Thursday afternoon and had started a fire in the fireplace to keep warm.

An ember got through cracked and deteriorating mortar in the chimney.

"Eventually that ignited the wood other combustibles in the attic and it went from there," Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver Alkire said.

A person passing by the house saw the smoke and flames around the chimney and roof line, knocked on the door and told the two workers what was happening. They got a garden hose connected and kept the fire contained until firefighters arrived, according to Alkire.

The attic, chimney and roof were damaged by the fire, and the lower portions of the house had "heavy water damage," according to the Fire Marshal's Office report.

"The house is still structurally sound, it's safe," Alkire said.

He noted the construction workers, Jeff Lander and James Secor, reported they had lit fires in the fireplace before and not had any problems, and they checked and saw the chimney was clear of creosote, a residue that builds up in chimneys and is a common accelerant in such fires.

Alkire noted Thursday was just the day when an ember "finally broke through" and started a fire.

"The Office of the State Fire Marshal always encourages anyone that has a flue or a chimney to have it regularly maintained and cleaned and inspected," he said.

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