Bel Air townhouse damaged by fire on Saturday

A townhouse in the 900 block of Hillswood Court in Bel Air was damaged by fire Saturday afternoon, the second house fire in the townhouse community off Route 22 in less than a week.

Two townhouses in the 900 block of Pentwood Court, two streets down from Saturday's fire scene, were gutted and several homes around them were damaged by a blaze in the early morning hours Wednesday.

Saturday's fire displaced a family and caused smoke damage to the houses on either side of the dwelling, according to the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association's public information page on Facebook.

Edward Hopkins, fire chief for the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, said no one was injured; firefighters were alerted at noon, and the fire was brought under control in about 20 minutes.

Fire trucks representing volunteer companies from all over Harford County lined Redfield Road, as more than 50 firefighters worked in the 90-degree, midday heat.

The Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office said Monday the fire was caused by a malfunctioning electric pedestal fan.

Damage is estimated at $50,000 to the two-story, wood frame dwelling and $10,000 to contents, the Fire Marshal's Office said in a notice of investigation.

Rose Pohl, who lives across Redfield Road in the neighboring Seasons at Bel Air apartment complex, said her upstairs neighbors told her about the fire.

She watched as firefighters cleared the scene.

"I did see some smoke in the back and at the top [of the first house], but then it spread to the second house," Pohl recalled.

Hopkins said the incident was a two-alarm fire, and units from the Aberdeen, Abingdon, Fallston, Level, Joppa-Magnolia volunteer fire companies, plus the Havre de Grace Ambulance Corps, provided assistance.

"Under normal weather conditions this would have been a one-alarm fire," Hopkins said, meaning only Bel Air units would have responded.

With temperatures in the 90s Saturday, however, and the risk of fire getting into the attic and spreading to the entire block of connected townhouses, the extra resources were called.

"The second alarm gives us a lot of added protection and resources," Hopkins explained. "Even if we don't use them, we have them on-site."

Members of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company Auxiliary and the Havre de Grace Ambulance Corps' "firefighter rehab" team helped keep the firefighters cool and hydrated with items such as cold drinks, wet towels and a tent to cool down under.

Zach Coyle, a member of the Ambulance Corps, said no firefighters were treated for heat-related injuries.

"Which is a good thing in this heat," he commented.

David Grue, 24, who lives next door to the left of the house where the fire is suspected to have started, got out with his mother ,Nancy, and their two dogs, Hermione, a female Chihuahua and Jack Russell terrier mix, and Cheyenne, a female husky mix.

Grue sat under some nearby shade trees with three of his friends from the neighborhood, his dogs, plus a neighbor's dog he and his friends look after. That dog was rescued from the neighbor's house, which is to the right of the house on fire.

He said he was sitting at the computer when he smelled smoke. Grue went to look for the source of the smoke while his mother called 911.

"We stated looking for the source and I went down to the basement and saw smoke coming out from a small crack in the bricks," he said.

Grue also knocked on the door of the house where the smoke was coming from, but there was no answer, since the family was away.

"I could hear the fire alarm going off, see the smoke coming out," he said.

While her son took care of the dogs, Nancy Grue stood outside her house, speaking with neighbors, fire investigators, even representatives of Howell & Son Contracting of Baltimore, who were offering their services to repair and restore the houses.

She said later that her cats had not gotten out of the house, which only suffered smoke damage. She and her son went back to look for the cats after the fire trucks cleared the scene.

"The fire truck was quick, thank goodness," she said.

The Fire Marshal's Office said the home is owned by Anjanette Cruz, who is being assisted by the American Red Cross and Harford Disaster Assistance.

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