Fire destroys apartment house in Catonvsille


An apartment complex being built in Catonsville for low-income elderly residents was destroyed by fire last night, putting the $5.4 million project in jeopardy.

The 101-unit Park Caton development, in the 300 block of Maiden Choice Lane, was nearly completed, and the first tenants were scheduled to move in by May.

The three-alarm fire swept through the 80,000-square-foot building, leaving a brick facade but destroying nearly everything inside. It took 220 firefighters from Baltimore and Howard counties and Baltimore City three hours to bring the fire under control.

No injuries were reported.

Hundreds of onlookers lined nearby streets, and the orange glow from flames could be seen for miles.

"All that I know is that when I left the Washington Boulevard station -- about three miles away -- I saw the flames," said Baltimore County Fire Capt. Thomas Evans.

Fire officials could not provide a damage estimate and said it was too early to say what could have caused the fire or where it started. Investigators said they would not get a chance to go inside before dawn today.

"I don't know what we'll find," said Capt. Chris Gauss, a Baltimore County fire investigator. "All three floors collapsed. We have to dig through all the rubble."

Firefighters said the entire three-story, U-shaped building was engulfed in flames when the first units arrived at 7:10 p.m.

Lisa Cleaver, who lives behind the apartment complex in the 100 block of Cherry Dell Road, said it appeared the building went up in flames atonce. "Right when the fire started, it was like the whole building was ablaze," she said. "The whole roof was on fire. It is almost like someone had to set it."

The apartment complex was being built by Shelter Development Corp. of Baltimore. The 101 one-bedroom units were to be rented to senior citizens on limited incomes. The project was being built with the help of a Community Development BlockGrant loan and a loan from the state's Community Development Administration.

Barbara King, the project coordinator for Shelter Development, said there already is a waiting list of 300 senior citizens for the apartments.

"There is a desperate need for elderly housing," said Ms. King. "This is a great setback."

This is the second apartment complex Shelter Development has built in the Baltimore area. The Park Terrace development in Dundalkwas completely rented within six months of completion last year.

The Park Caton apartments were to be leased to people age 62 or older and annual income of less than $17,010, or $19,440 for couples. The rent was to be between $335 and $380 a month.

Ms. King said the development corporation mostly builds garden-style apartments in Columbia. The development corporation company is an affiliate of Shelter/Can American, which has built more than 20,000residential units in the nation.

Baltimore County Fire Chief Elwood Banister said the building was a total loss. But Battalion Chief Bruce Kesting said part of the east wing, with about one-third of the apartments, may be salvageable.

While the roof was destroyed, he said, the basic structure may still be intact and could be saved.

Chief Kesting said the fire was hard to fight because of limited access to the site and because the water supply had not been connected.

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