Sierra Wright walked up the alley behind their town house in Aberdeen’s Holly Woods neighborhood Monday afternoon as work crews put up fencing around the row of other homes razed Saturday by fire.
“That’s our home, where that red car is,” Wright said, pointing to a shiny red car in the driveway in the back of her town house, next to hollowed-out frames of cars in neighbors’ driveways that were destroyed in the blaze.
“We were on the couch, my husband and I were on our cellphones, and we heard something that sounded like gunshots or maybe fireworks,” Wright said. “My husband was facing the sliding glass door to our deck, and when he looked up, he ran to the door, went out on the deck and ran back into the house screaming, ‘Oh, my God! Oh, my God! We gotta get out of here.’
“I ran and looked, and all I saw were flames coming from next door.”
Sierra and her husband, Ike, grabbed their 14-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, and ran out the front door, eventually taking the children to a neighbor’s house farther down the street.
“Neighbors were banging on others’ doors, screaming for people to get out of their homes,” Sierra Wright said. “It was a nightmare.”
The Wrights stood with neighbors in the alley and watched the fire destroy their homes. When the smoke got too intense, she said, they moved over a street and watched “as things kept blowing” and more firefighters arrived.
“It was like a war zone,” she said.
Firefighters from Aberdeen and Abingdon saw the fire in the distance around 10:45 p.m., while responding to the 4700 block of Witchhazel Way. It took about 60 firefighters from several fire companies almost two hours to control the blaze.
Three town houses in the eight-house block collapsed under fire and water damage. All eight are considered total losses with an estimated $5 million in damages, said Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver Alkire.
“The heat from the fire was so intense it caused extensive heat-related damage to multiple other nearby homes,” Alkire said.
Devon Galanos and his family live in one of the Wineberry Way houses behind the town houses on Witchazel Way. On Monday afternoon, he was emptying out his Ford Mustang, which was sitting in the driveway. The front of the car was melted and pointing toward the shell of another car that initially caught fire across the alleyway from his home.
Galanos said he was in his 15-year-old son’s bedroom when they heard three bangs.
“I thought it was gunshots and I told my son to get down on the floor,” said Galanos, a Baltimore police detective. “But my son said, ‘Dad, I don’t think that’s gunshots.’”
Galanos said he went to his son’s window, which faces the back of the razed town houses, and saw a car in the driveway of the center town house on fire.
“It happened very fast,” he said. “It was scary.”
Galanos, his wife, Delita, and their two children ran out of their front door onto Wineberry Way.
While his family still has their home, they are also still struggling with what happened, Galanos said. He told his wife and their children not to look at the devastation. They, like the Wrights, kept their kids home from school on Monday and said they would be home for a couple of days.
“It’s traumatizing,” he said. “Everybody’s on edge.”
Galanos said that as a Baltimore native who works in Baltimore, he’s seen a lot over the years, but this fire was too close to home.
“You see it every day, and it does weigh down on you,” he said, “but when it hits home, and you almost lose your life, it’s a lot to handle. It just reminds me what’s really important. We’re OK.”
Andrew Doyle, from the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association, said 19 adults and seven children were displaced, as well as three dogs and three cats.
An injured firefighter also been treated and released, Doyle said.
“While the loss of property was substantial, I am grateful that no lives were lost in Saturday’s fire,” said Harford County Executive Bob Cassilly in a statement, who thanked the firefighters that knocked down the fire.
Both Wright and Galanos also expressed relief that no one was seriously injured in the blaze. Galanos said that the family who lives in the house where the fire started was not home at the time.
“It’s really miraculous,” he said, shaking his head.
“I’m just glad it wasn’t at 2 or 3 in the morning, when people were sleeping” Wright added. “It could’ve been a whole different story.”
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Wright said the support from her neighbors, many of whom she did not know prior to the fire, has been “amazing.”
“It’s been overwhelming,” said Wright, who has lived in Holly Woods for six years. “It’s not as close-knit as older neighborhoods, so we don’t really know each other here, but it forced everybody to come together. People I don’t know who live here have been asking me what do we need. It’s truly a village. People really do care.”
Harford County Council member Jacob Bennett, who represents District F, which includes Holly Woods, expressed his reaction on Facebook and shared information about how to assist affected families.
“I am heartbroken for the families who have been impacted by this fire but also thankful to our volunteer firefighters who were able to jump into action and put the fires out,” Bennett said.
Bennett also expressed gratitude to local community members who started an online fundraiser, which, so far, has raised over $10,000 of its ultimate goal of $15,000. Bennett is listed as the top donor, with $700. The fundraiser can be found on GoFundMe.
Residents of Holly Woods have jumped in to support their own, turning their community clubhouse into a hub where the families can have “a safe space,” according to a woman who said she was president of the homeowners association but declined to give her name. The woman said people from as far as Pennsylvania had brought donated items, but the group prefers that people donate on the GoFundMe page. The funds will be distributed evenly to the eight families, she said.