The iconic Anderson Hardware & Storage store on Route 40 in Joppa was destroyed Tuesday evening by a fire that caused an estimated $1 million damage before it was brought under control by about 80 firefighters.
Officials from the first fire company on the scene said the blaze escalated to the equivalent of three alarms, requiring equipment from Harford and Baltimore counties to put it out.
State fire marshals said Wednesday the cause of the fire in the 900 block of Pulaski Highway remained under investigation.
"It's a really old building, so we have to be cognizant of the structure," Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal John Wagner said from the scene of the fire Wednesday morning.
He said he did not know if the building is salvageable.
The business was blocked off with police tape as fire and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officials worked the scene Wednesday morning. Neighbors and friends of the owners also milled around the grounds.
No civilians were injured in the fire, which forced the closure of Route 40 in both directions at the end of Tuesday evening's rush hour.
At least two firefighters were injured, however, and one required transport to a regional burn center with what were described as "minor burns," according to the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company. The other firefighter was taken to a local hospital with unspecified injuries.
None of the firefighters' injuries were life threatening, Jason Freund, assistant chief with Joppa-Magnolia, said at the scene.
Emergency calls for the fire began shortly before 6:30 p.m. Tuesday; Freund said "multiple calls" were received.
The first units to arrive reported smoke through the roof of the two-story building, according to monitored emergency radio broadcasts. A call also went out for a hazardous materials team. Freund said the store was closed when the fire broke out.
Firefighters were ordered to "evacuate the building" at 6:45 p.m.
Around the same time, a "May Day" was broadcast on emergency radio frequencies for at least one missing firefighter, according to the Harford Fire Blog on Facebook. It was subsequently reported everyone involved with battling the fire had been accounted for.
Personnel remained on the scene fighting the fire as darkness fell.
"We're going to be here for several more hours," Freund said.
A column of smoke billowed into the blue evening sky and could be seen from more than a mile away along Route 40. The highway was closed between Joppa Road and Route 152 (Magnolia Road), and onlookers gathered across the road from the hardware store taking pictures and video with their phones.
Amanda Lora, 20, of Edgewood, was driving home on Route 40 when she saw the smoke coming from the hardware store.
She had her boyfriend's aunt, Kathy Torres, also of Edgewood, and Torres' children, Eloise Zabala, 9, Carmela Zabala, 7, and Shanelle Torres, 11, in the car with her.
They sat in the car in a parking lot across the highway, watching the smoke billowing.
"It was just a little bit of smoke at first," Lora said.
She, Torres and the children watched as firefighters arrived and saw some of them punch holes in the roof to let the smoke out.
Torres saw the smoke trapped inside before it was allowed to escape, followed by flames, through the roof.
"We got to see smoke and then the fire," she said.
Lora's mother, Mercedes Class, of Joppatowne, her husband, David, and son, Alex Lora, 14, were heading to White Marsh to shop when they heard about the fire.
Mercedes Class said she was a regular shopper at Anderson, where she would get keys made, purchase wood, flowers, paint and other supplies.
"They have everything there," she said at the scene. "You want it, they've got it. Everything you want that other stores don't have, they've got it."
The store is owned by Frank Albert Deems Jr., who purchased the business in 1969.
Deems was one of five partners at the time, but he eventually became the sole owner, according to family members at the scene.
Virginia Anderson, of Joppa, the sister of Albert Deems, spent 20 years working at the store as a bookkeeper. She called the fire "devastating."
Son Frank Deems III, a captain in the Baltimore City Fire Department and a volunteer firefighter in Kingsville, got a call from his firehouse in Kingsville about the fire at his family's business.
Deems began working at the store after school and on weekends at age 14 and still worked there part-time, helping his brother, Dwight, who works there full-time managing the business.
"It's tragic, it really is, a lot of memories here," Deems said, his voice breaking.
He said the "best part" of working there was meeting the customers and building relationships with them.
"It was truly a family business," Deems said. "We tried to give the best customer service we could."
He said his 3-year-old son, Frankie, even came to work with him some days.
"He had a time card; he'd punch in and help me fix screens," Deems said.
According to a news release sent shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday by the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company public information officer, fire units from Joppa-Magnolia, Abingdon Volunteer Fire Company, Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, Kingsville Volunteer Fire Company and the Aberdeen Proving Ground Fire Department were dispatched to the scene. Also responding were the Fallston Volunteer Fire Company and White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company.
Firefighters arrived to find smoke coming from a one story hardware store, the release states. Additional resources were immediately requested.
Firefighters took hoses inside the store to begin extinguishing the fire, as well as to protect the search and rescue crews, the release continued. Once it was determined that there were no occupants, firefighters evacuated the building and began fighting the fire from the outside and from ladders.
Joppa-Magnolia's release said the fire escalated to the equivalent of three alarms, with more than 80 firefighters, paramedics and other emergency personnel responding on 31 emergency vehicles.
The Harford County Hazardous Materials Team was dispatched because of the contents of the store potentially being hazardous, and the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office was requested to determine the cause and origin of the fire.
Eight members of the HAZMAT team responded to the hardware store, and deployed booms in neighboring creeks and streams to prevent any materials from getting into local waterways, as well as storm drains, Robert Thomas, spokesman for the Harford County Department of Emergency Services, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.
The two injured firefighters, both men, are with the Aberdeen Proving Ground Fire Department, according to the Joppa-Magnolia VFC news release.
One firefighter was taken by Abingdon Fire Company Paramedic Unit to the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air with a minor injury, and the other was taken by Joppa-Magnolia Paramedic Unit to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Burn Center in Baltimore, with minor burns.
Both sides of Route 40 were blocked between Route 152 (Mountain Road) and Joppa Road.
Crews from the Level Volunteer Fire Company and Susquehanna Hose Company of Havre de Grace were called to respond to other calls in Joppa-Magnolia's territory until the incident was under control, the Joppa-Magnolia release said.
Check back with http://www.exploreharford.com for updates.
Bryna Zumer contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun