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Major fire at Annapolis used car dealership forces school closure; power cut for 1,000 BGE customers

A fire at a used car dealership in Annapolis Monday morning damaged at least 13 cars, resulted in a power shut off for approximately 1,000 businesses and homes in the area and forced a nearby school to close for the day, fire department officials said.

Nobody was injured during the blaze, said Battalion Chief John Ortlieb, a spokesman for the Annapolis Fire Department. But the fire alarmed neighbors.

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John Jones lives across from Annapolis Car Center on West Street and was getting ready to go to work at Annapolis High School when he noticed the fire, he said. So, he called 911 around 6:30 a.m.

“I saw this bright light and heard things exploding,” Jones said.

Firefighters responded to the dealership not long after Jones’ call and arrived to find four cars ablaze and a live electrical line down, Ortlieb said.

Aerial photos show the aftermath of a fire at a used car dealership in Annapolis that forced a school to close on Feb. 3, 2020.
Aerial photos show the aftermath of a fire at a used car dealership in Annapolis that forced a school to close on Feb. 3, 2020.(Kevin Richardson)

Ortlieb said approximately 35 firefighters — from the city, the Anne Arundel County Fire Department and the Naval Support Activity Annapolis Fire Department — descended on the dealership, which is located next to an Avis Car Rental and across the street from Insane Car Audio store.

The live wire proved precarious and fire crews had to put the firefight on hold as BGE responded to shut down power, Ortlieb said. Approximately 1,000 residents and businesses in the area lost power as a result.

The nearby Monarch Academy closed for the day because of issues related to the blaze, Anne Arundel County Public Schools announced in a Tweet.

“What started as a wire or two down became significantly unsafe with a live wire issue,” said Capt. Aaron Edwards, a fire spokesman.

Police officers closed the entire block of West Street and the intersection of Gibraltar Avenue, the Annapolis Police Department said in a tweet.

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Jones said he watched the fire spread. He said it originated in the middle of the lot and spread toward the road.

Ortlieb said firefighters brought the fire under control in about 20 minutes after the power was cut off to the live wire. Still, scores of emergency vehicles and BGE trucks remained on the scene for hours.

The Rev. Dana Swann, whose mother lives next to Jones, said he had an early morning doctor appointment and that he left the area about 10 minutes before the fire.

“I looked back and saw the smoke,” Swann said.

Swann said the fire produced a “big tall” plume of smoke, which was visible from Anne Arundel Medical Center and said he remembered thinking “that’s unusual. Something’s going on. This is not an ordinary house fire.”

At approximately 9 a.m., firefighters were cleaning up the scene. Foam coated the parts of the used car lot and a puddle had formed around a nearby fire hydrant, from which firefighters were detaching a hose.

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Fire engines, police cars and BGE trucks cluttered the block around the lot, where at least 10 cars had been scorched. Three more were damaged and a limp power line lay across Gibraltar Avenue. BGE workers evaluated the scene as firefighters packed up.

Officials are investigating the fire and do not yet know the cause or origin of the blaze, Ortlieb said.

By 9:20 a.m., fire engines began driving away from the scene, and within 10 minutes officers had reopened the road, Annapolis police said in a Tweet. There were no power outages in the area as of 4:30 p.m., according to the BGE power outage map.

“It’s frightening,” Jones said. “But I’m glad no one got hurt.”

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