More than 80 firefighters battled a fire Monday afternoon that spread rapidly from rowhouse to rowhouse along Hazel Street in Curtis Bay, ultimately damaging 10 homes and injuring a firefighter and another person.
"It quickly moved right on up the block," said Blair Skinner, spokeswoman for the city Fire Department. "It was very challenging."
The fire drove 23 residents from their homes on the 1600 block of this short side street. The firefighter suffered minor injuries, Skinner said. She didn't know the other person's condition. But neighbors said a woman broke her ankle while escaping the flames.
The block burned with many families home from work Monday and preparing their July Fourth celebrations. Eight of the homes were occupied and two were vacant, firefighters said.
Matthew Smith heard the shouting and ran outside his home on Hazel Street. He rushed down the block, knocking on his neighbors' doors before the explosions began.
"Several explosions, like things were blowing up inside," Smith said. "I kept hearing, boom! Boom!"
Smith suspects the fire started at a vacant house on Hazel Street.
"There had been kids playing in it lately," he said.
Families sheltered from the smoke and ash in the neighborhood community center. George Kirk, with the city housing department, wrote down their names and phone numbers to provide emergency housing. Outside the firefighters worked in the afternoon heat. They sprawled on the grass with wet towels draped on their heads. They had arrived at 12:30 p.m. and after two hours, flames still spit from the roofs. Two firefighters, shouldering a hose, climbed atop a porch roof. They leaned in an upstairs window and doused the flames from inside. The home's roof had collapsed.
The smoke drove back the crowd and left some coughing.
Hours after it broke out, the fire was finally placed under control around 6 p.m.
"All I saw was the smoke," said Pamela Bishop, who was shopping at Walmart when a neighbor called to say her house was burning.
Inside her row home lived 15 cats she had rescued over the years. There was Garfield with his orange stripes, and Ava who suffered a broken pelvis and Bishop nursed back to health. Some cats escaped and the neighbors scooped them up. But only six and her albino ferret, Pinky, were accounted for when Bishop arrived.
The roof had collapsed on her home. The edges of the doors and windows were charred. Then a lieutenant emerged with something wet and black is his arms. He handed the quivering shape to Bishop. It was a green-eyed kitten she had named Jinx. The ends of his white whiskers were singed and curled.
"I got you baby. I got you. It's OK," said Bishop, nuzzling his wet, black fur.