60 firefighters battle 2-alarm blaze 'Suspicious' fire erupts in vacant house


A two-alarm fire declared "suspicious" by the state fire marshal's office erupted in the basement of a vacant three-story house at 152 W. Main St. about 3:30 p.m. yesterday.

The blaze extended from the basement into the wall on the west side of the house, which neighbors said had recently been renovated.

Firefighters had to remove pieces of the metal siding, chop through the insulation and cut into the wood structure of the building to get to the flames from outside as other firefighters fought flames inside to bring the fire under control.

No one was in the building when the fire was discovered, officials said.

The first fire unit on the scene reported "heavy smoke coming from the basement" and requested additional equipment as smoke billowed from the front door and windows on the first floor.

Firefighters were forced to don air masks and tanks to enter the smoky building and attempt to get to the seat of the blaze.

The Winfield air unit was dispatched to replace air tanks depleted by the firemen.

More than 60 firefighters from Westminster, Reese, Pleasant Valley, New Windsor, Manchester, Hampstead and Winfield manned the 11 pieces of equipment that were dispatched to the fire, said Bob Cumberland, a public relations officer for the Westminster Volunteer Fire Company.

Two medic units also were dispatched, but no one was injured.

Investigators were able to talk later with Sallie S. Stair, co-owner of the building with her estranged husband, Charles A. Stair Jr., neighbors said.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Frank M. Rauschenberg is investigating the fire. He deemed it of "suspicious" origin.

Carroll County Emergency Operations Center dispatchers originally broadcast the fire as a possible arson when the units were called on the first alarm.

Damage estimates were not available last night.

Dr. William O'Rourke, a family physician at 148 W. Main St., said one of his patients discovered the fire and asked his secretary to call 911.

"They just re-did the whole thing a while back," the doctor said of the owners, as he watched the firefighters from his front porch.

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