An unoccupied house northeast of Bel Air was extensively damaged by a two-alarm fire early Saturday morning as dozens of firefighters from Bel Air and surrounding jurisdictions worked in the bitter cold.
The cause and place of origin of the fire remained under investigation Monday, according to a Notice of Investigation released by the Office of the State Fire Marshal Monday.
Firefighters, who were alerted at 3:51 a.m., had to take a "defensive" position as flames consumed the structure in the 2100 block of Kalmia Road.
"Operations went defensive as the structural integrity of the home was unsafe for inside work," Rich Gardiner reported Saturday on the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company's Facebook page.
Gardiner is a member of the Bel Air fire company and a spokesman for the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association.
The scene is near Deer Creek and about six miles northeast of the center of Bel Air.
There were no injuries, and no one was living in the house at the time of the fire; the owner of the dwelling was using it for storage, according to the fire marshal's report.
The fire caused $90,000 in damage – $60,000 to the structure and $30,000 to the contents.
The house was one story high and a wood-framed structure, according to the notice.
About 50 firefighters from the Bel Air, Abingdon, Darlington, Jarrettsville and Level volunteer fire companies responded, according to Gardiner.
The fire was brought under control in about 45 minutes.
Gardiner noted the firefighters were "faced with extreme cold and icy working conditions," and a Harford County HAZMAT decontamination vehicle was dispatched to the scene to give firefighters a place where they could keep warm and rest.
The decontamination vehicle has been deployed to several other major fires in Harford County this month, such as a Jan. 8 fire on Marigold Court in Riverside.
County officials have pledged to send the vehicle to working fire scenes during the extended period of cold and snow this winter.
Gardiner said via text message Saturday the vehicle has enough space for firefighters to get warm, and portable heaters are carried on it.
He noted in a post on the Harford County Md Fire & EMS PIO Media Page, also on Facebook, that firefighters risk injuries from exposure to the cold such as frostbite and hypothermia as they get wet from fire hose water and their own sweat.
The water used to fight the fire can also become a hazard as it freezes on the ground and ladders. Hoses, nozzles and fire hydrant caps can also freeze.
"Keeping crews warm, dry and hydrated helps to reduce exposure issues," Gardiner wrote. "In many cases additional personnel are called to the scene to ensure the job gets done and everyone stays safe by rotating fresh crews in and out of the extreme weather."