A spate of unusually serious house fires hit Harford County in July, injuring three people, killing a dog and causing more than $1 million in total damages.
While fire officials say there does not seem to be any clear connections between the fires, it was unusual and "irritating" to see so many within a short period of time and likely just a coincidence.
"The number and type of fires was very concerning to me," Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company Chief Edward Hopkins said, noting he could primarily speak about Bel Air's calls.
The county saw seven significant fires in residential properties last month, several that affected more than one home in the neighborhood. All but one were deemed to be caused accidentally or as the result of homeowner negligence.
"There have been a number of working fires and it is unusual to see so many and that they are clustered so close together in such a short time frame," Hopkins said. "While each fire has a different cause, the fact remains that fire is unpredictable, dangerous and can occur at any time given the right circumstances. The property destruction is obvious."
He said it was nevertheless notable that no one died in any of the fires.
"In all of the cases, there was no loss of human life and injuries to firefighters and civilians were minor," Hopkins said. "I do think it is coincidence that these all occurred around the same time. The destruction these fires caused should reinforce to everyone the need for smoke detectors in every room of the house, both having and practicing an escape plan, understanding that electrical equipment and appliances can and do malfunction and should not be left operating when you are not home, and that grills must be used properly and charcoal briquettes must be cooled and then disposed of properly as well."
Hopkins added that volunteers in Bel Air, as well as those throughout the county, have done an "amazing" job, including backing each other up during extreme weather.
At a recent county public safety meeting, commission head Tony Bennett also commented on the fires.
"I can tell you that some [of] it is due to the inattention of property owners." Bennett said. "You normally don't that many building fires in that short a period of time."
He said it has made him very busy in the past few weeks.
"I have a shower in my office and I've used it," Bennett noted.
Bruce Bouch, a deputy with the State Fire Marshal's office, said he likewise does not know why fires often come in waves.
"It tends to go in rolls, and that is what I can't figure out," Bouch said Thursday. He said it was frustrating in light of the fact that Maryland had the lowest number of fire-related fatalities last year.
"A lot of the accidental fires, obviously, most can be prevented just by maintaining things in the home," he said. "It's irritating, because with all the releases I do... it's still up to the individual to heed the message and follow the instruction."
Buildings suffer extensive damage
The cause of the most recent fire, at a townhouse in the 1000 block of Waterside Court in Edgewood on Tuesday, was preliminarily listed as "incendiary," according to the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office.
The month began with a July 6 fire in the 300 block of Joppa Crossing Court. No one was home at the time and no one was injured in the blaze; a dog was rescued from the house.
The fire totaled $10,000 in damage and was caused by "spontaneous combustion" of rags in a trash bag.
On July 15, a dog was killed in a Joppatowne fire, in the first block of Fort Hoyle Road. The fire began in a laundry room, where an electric clothes dryer malfunctioned.
The family was displaced and damage was estimated at $30,000.
Two days later, families in three homes on Pentwood Road in Bel Air were displaced after a major fire caused by improperly disposed coals from a charcoal grill.
A firefighter suffered minor injuries after falling from second floor of townhouse while working on the fire, which was reported early in the morning. A second firefighter was also treated for heat related illness.
An adjacent townhome was also destroyed in that blaze.
Between July 20 and 24, three more fires damaged homes and injured people around the county.
In Bel Air, a fire in the 900 block of Hillswood Court was caused by a malfunctioning electric pedestal fan, the second fire in the community off Route 22 within a week.
A family was displaced and the fire caused $60,000 worth of damage to the townhouse, with smoke damage to houses on either side. Despite the 90-degree heat, however, no firefighters were treated for illness.
On July 22, a Bel Air firefighter suffered minor burns while responding to a nighttime fire in the 200 block of Marshall Drive in Forest Hill.
That fire started in a basement and was deemed to be caused by a lightning strike.
The firefighter was taken to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where he was treated and released.
The home sustained $250,000 in damage.
On July 24, a homeowner was taken to Bayview for minor burn to his face and smoke inhalation following a fast-moving fire in the 4300 block of Winners Circle in Belcamp.
He was expected to make a full recovery.
A firefighter was also treated on site for a minor eye injury. Several other residents were able to escape injury during the fire, which destroyed the home, valued at $500,000, and caused moderate heat-related damage to homes on each side.
The cause was determined to be accidental, originating in the garage.
"We take so much of what we do every day for granted and often times without thinking through the consequences," Hopkins said. "Sometimes, these unfortunate consequences catch up with us and the result is the fires we've seen recently. We hope our communities learn from these devastating fires and take steps to protect themselves so it doesn't happen to them."