6-alarm fire hits office building in Baltimore County 5 firefighters injured slightly; 50 tenants displaced by blaze


A six-alarm fire early yesterday caused an estimated $3 million damage to a Baltimore County office building and resulted in minor injuries to five firefighters, fire officials said.

Fifty tenants, including the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Maryland branch, Pinkerton Security and the National Voluntary Health Agencies of Maryland, were displaced by the blaze in the 1000 block of Taylor Avenue.

"The third floor was completely gone, and the structure was pretty shaky. There is a big crack down one side," said Dori DiVenti, executive director of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Maryland chapter, which has offices on the second floor.

Judith Kitz, executive director of the National Voluntary Health Agencies, said "about 40 years of files" apparently went up in smoke. Firefighters wouldn't allow her into what's left of her third-floor office because of concern about the building's safety.

"My office has been totally destroyed," Ms. Kitz said. "When I stood on Taylor Avenue and looked from the street to my office and saw steel girders instead of walls, I did cry."

A cab driver who spotted flames coming from the Hillendale Square office building just before 5:30 a.m. alerted the fire department, officials said.

Fire investigator William Munchel said an electrical problem is believed to have caused the fire, which began in the offices of Hayes Sales Inc., on the top floor of the three-story brick building.

Flames spread throughout the third floor, destroying or heavily damaging offices of several companies including a branch of Pinkerton Security. Fire officials said there was mostly water and smoke damage to the second floor and water damage on the first level of the structure, which was built in the early 1960s as the headquarters of the Phillips Petroleum Co.

Because the heat and humidity in the building were so intense, additional alarms were called to bring in reinforcements to relieve firefighters. An estimated 175 firefighters battled the blaze, which was brought under control about 8:30 a.m., officials said.

Five firefighters were treated at area hospitals for minor injuries and released, officials said.

The fire came as the Multiple Sclerosis Society was readying a fund-raising bicycle tour for this weekend between Catonsville Community College and Western Maryland College in Westminster. The 150-kilometer bike tour raised $275,000 last year.

Ms. DiVenti said the event would go on as scheduled. Office workers, who were allowed back into the building for half an hour yesterday morning, were able to salvage registration forms for the nearly 1,000 bike tour entrants, she said.

They also managed to rescue files for the society's 2,300 clients statewide, but Ms. DiVenti said the damage to computer systems and other equipment was unknown.

Calls to the Taylor Ave. office will automatically be forwarded to the branch in Millersville, she said, while the society seeks temporary quarters for its 22-member staff.

Ms. Kitz, who has been with National Voluntary Health Agencies since 1976, said she lost family photographs as well as office records and memorabilia. The organization represents 65 health agencies in federal fund-raising campaigns.

When Ms. Kitz got a phone call at 7:15 a.m., she was expecting birthday greetings because she turned 53 yesterday. Instead, it was news of the fire from her administrative assistant.

"I'm just very happy no one was killed. Things you can get again, but human life you can't. I'll never forget my 53rd birthday," she said.

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