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24 displaced by early-morning Bel Air fire

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Twenty-four people were displaced was injured by a fire that caused an estimated $1 million in damages to a Bel Air apartment block Thursday morning.

Firefighters from nine volunteer fire companies in Baltimore and Harford counties responded to the three-alarm fire in the 200 block of Crocker Drive, part of the Hickory Hills complex. No injuries were reported, but 18 apartments were destroyed or damaged.

Emergency crews were alerted around 4:20 a.m. and the blaze was placed under control about two hours later, shortly after 6 a.m., according to Rich Gardiner, spokesman for the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS association, and a member of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company.

Firefighters were still on the scene after sunrise, monitoring and spraying down hot spots.

"Fire's a fickle thing," said Oliver Alkire, senior deputy state fire marshal and assistant public information officer with the Office of the State Fire Marshal. "As soon as we think we've got all the hot spots it flares back up."

Alkire said the cause of the fire was under investigation.

Bel Air Fire Chief Edward Hopkins and Deputy Chief Rick Davis Jr. were among the first to arrive on the scene; Hopkins said Davis helped a person get out of the building.

Officials with the nearby American Legion Post 39 in Bel Air opened their doors to residents, many who are elderly.

Staffers with Harford County Disaster Assistance and the American Red Cross were also on the scene to assist residents.

The middle of the three-story brick building was gutted, and a large portion of the roof had collapsed, leaving wooden interior walls exposed.

Alkire said the central units at 219 Crocker, where the fire originated, were "almost a total loss." Neighboring apartments at 217 and 221 Crocker suffered "minor to moderate smoke damage," and officials were working to allow residents to return to those units by Thursday evening.

A small group of residents and their family members gathered behind yellow tape with television news crews at the rear of 219 Crocker as fire investigators went in and out.

Resident Erika Dickey, 23, escaped with her 2-year-old son and the clothes she was wearing after a friend woke her and told her about the fire.

"I didn't grab anything except my son," she said. "I wasn't really worried about my stuff or anything like that."

Dickey said she went out through the front of her apartment, where the smoke was not as thick.

She got into her truck to give her son some heat and shelter, and put on clothes she had in the truck, such as a light coat and boots, since she did not have any shoes with her.

"Thank goodness I keep things in the truck," she said.

Dickey said "everybody has been very, very nice" in providing assistance.

Investigators directed onlookers back to the sidewalk after they received a report of a gas leak.

Alkire said a gas valve had not been fully shut off, and BGE crews returned to the scene to close the valve.

Thursday's fire was the second to take place at Hickory Hills this year and the third since 2010, according to Gardiner.

The previous fire in April of 2013, a two-alarm blaze, took place at 108 Seevue Court; the two-alarm 2010 fire occurred at 102 Seevue in January, Gardiner said.

The April fire caused an estimated $1.5 million in damage.

At least 50 firefighters came Thursday from companies in Bel Air, Abingdon, Joppa-Magnolia, Level, Darlington, Havre de Grace, Jarrettsville, Fallston and Kingsville in Baltimore County.

Hopkins thanked the firefighters for their efforts, and lauded Bel Air police officers for arriving quickly and alerting residents to the fire, as well as those who provided disaster assistance.

"It just demonstrates the resiliency of a community to come together in a time of need," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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