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30 are left homeless in two-alarm fire


Barbara Downes had planned to greet Christmas morning with her two children and spend a quiet day in their apartment enjoying presents.

Instead, Downes said today, she and her family will probably stay at either an emergency housing shelter or a relative's house after an intense two-alarm fire seriously damaged her apartment and 30 other units at a Greenspring Avenue apartment building.

The blaze, which fire officials said apparently was started by an unattended cook pot in a neighbor's apartment, left 30 residents of the Woodland Apartments in the 4700 block of Greenspring Ave. homeless.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported in the fire, which started about 10 o'clock last night at the apartment complex near Cold Spring Lane.

"I guess we just have to start over completely," Downes, 31, said today as she stood in a steady rain and surveyed the burned debris from several apartments that firefighters had strewn on -- the building's lawn.

"I'm just glad that everybody is OK."

Downes said she lost some but not all of the Christmas gifts for her children, ages 8 and 9. Some residents lost much more.

One resident said he lost $5,000 he had been saving to buy Christmas presents, police said. Scores of Christmas gifts and numerous decorated trees were burned up.

"There were burned-out Christmas trees and charred gift boxes covered with Christmas wrappings all over the place," said police Officer Dean Brightbill of the Northern District.

Brightbill said the fire began in the ground-level terrace apartment of Nicole Maddox, who awoke when she smelled smoke and saw flames coming from her kitchen. The heat from a burning pot set nearby cabinets and other fixtures on fire, Brightbill said.

Maddox fled her apartment as flames quickly engulfed it. The fire then spread to five other apartments in the front of the building and another four in the rear.

"The fire really took off and went up and to the rear of th Maddox apartment," said Brightbill.

At the height of the fire, flames and smoke poured out of apartments on three floors.

Brightbill said several residents climbed out onto their balconies and entered adjacent apartments not threatened by the flames. Others got out after residents or passers-by knocked on their doors to alert them to the fire.

Many escaped with only the clothes they were wearing, said Brightbill.

Downes said she never saw flames, but smelled a lot of smoke.

"We just got out of there quickly," said Downes, who has lived in the apartment for less than a year. "My apartment wasn't gutted. It's just got a lot of smoke and water damage."

Fire officials called a second alarm five minutes after the first was sounded. More than 70 firefighters with about 15 vehicles battled the fire, which was declared under control at 10:53 p.m.

Some people, including children, appeared to suffer from smoke inhalation, but no one sought hospital treatment. Two ambulances responded to the fire.

Within seconds after arriving, firefighters carrying heavy hoses poured water on the flames while others entered the apartments and to look for anyone who may not have gotten out. No one was found and all residents were accounted for, said Brightbill.

He said that if the fire had occurred a few hours later, when people were asleep, the loss of life could have been heavy because the fire was so intense and spread so quickly from the terrace apartment. He said most residents were awake when the fire broke out.

When the first of several police officers arrived on the scene, Brightbill said, they parked their radio cars on Cold Spring Lane, several hundred feet south of the fire.

As the officers got out of their cars to direct traffic away from the scene, they were hit by a blast of heat coming from the burning building.

"Until the firefighters knocked the fire down," he said, "the officers could hardly stand the heat."

The fire caused an estimated $250,000 damage to the building, police said.

"We won't know until later what the personal property lost in the fire was worth," Brightbill said.

A spokesman for the city Fire Department said the Red Cross was providing temporary shelter to those burned out of their homes.

Friends and relatives took several of the fire victims into their homes.

Last night many who lost their homes and property filled the area in front of the building and were being comforted by friends and relatives.

"This is the worst time of all to have a fire," said Brightbill.

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