Neighbors remained shaken yesterday by a fire at an ill-fated barbecue that seriously burned an Owings Mills man and fueled a fiery explosion that consumed his garage and four vehicles during a holiday weekend cookout.
"It's pretty incredible when you think of all that could have happened," said Bryan Soronson, looking at his neighbor's burned-out garage and charred house. "It could have been a lot worse. We're glad that things weren't worse."
Jerry Newman was cooking on a propane grill Saturday evening in the driveway of his family's Leicester Court home when "wind blew fire all over the place," said his daughter, Sheryl, 12. When Mr. Newman moved the grill to the lawn, the barbecue tipped and ignited a van parked in the driveway, she said.
"He was trying to get it away from the cars and the garage," Sheryl said.
The van exploded, igniting another car parked in the driveway and two others parked in the family's garage, neighbors and Baltimore County firefighters said. Two of the cars belonged to visitors.
"It was chaos," said Brian Sandish of Columbia, who was visiting neighbors across the street from the Newmans. "People were screaming and running all over the place, trying to pull their cars away from there as things were exploding."
A series of explosions created an inferno that sent smoke billowing through neighborhoods of townhouses and detached homes off Owings Mills Boulevard.
Mr. Newman, 43, a vocational counselor, was flown by helicopter to the Francis Scott Key Medical Center, where he was listed in satisfactory condition yesterday. He suffered first- and second-degree burns over 20 percent of his body, firefighters said.
Mr. Newman's wife, Sandy, and their daughters, Ilana, 8, and Sheryl, escaped unharmed. None of the guests was injured, firefighters said.
The family moved into the two-story colonial home on the cul-de-sac four months ago, Sheryl said. She said several couples were at their home for the cookout when the fire occurred about 5:30 p.m.
"We always cook out on Memorial Day," said Sheryl, who, along with her sister, played and roller-bladed along Leicester Court yesterday, occasionally stopping to describe the blaze to the curious. "We grill all the time."
Firefighters said they believe the fire was caused by a broken line in the grill or because the grill was not hooked up correctly. The mishap remained under investigation.
No damage estimates were available. Although the garage was destroyed, the Newmans' attached brick home was not seriously damaged. But friends said the family was staying with neighbors and relatives anyway.
"The house is just a little dirty," said 7-year-old Rachel Soronson.
Neighbor Roz Naviasky recalled hearing a "huge explosion" and running into the street. Unsure of what had happened, she and others began alerting other neighbors, thinking they might have to flee.
"We didn't know what was going on," Mrs. Naviasky said. "We heard someone screaming fire down the street. We made sure everyone got out of their homes. It was very scary."
"You could see smoke everywhere," said her son, Michael, 8.
Mr. Sandish, who snapped several pictures of the fire, said residents seemed in shock as the blaze roared and crowds lured by the smoke stood at a safe distance watching.
"People were just standing around watching," he said. "Cars were lined up all along the road. You could see the smoke and fire from far away, I'm sure."
Leicester Court was roped off yesterday, but the charred cars, bicycles, grill and other paraphernalia spewed in the Newman driveway attracted a steady stream of onlookers.
"It looks like a war zone," said Andrew Snyder, who lives on the next block. "You hear about safety and all that, and yet you use your grill all the time without thinking about it.
"It was a horrible tragedy," he said.
In light of the incident, firefighters urged people to be cautious when cooking outdoors. They offered several safety tips:
* Gas and other grills should be used away from vehicles, buildings and anything flammable.
* Loose clothing should not be worn when grilling.
* Only lighting fluid should be used for charcoal grills. Gasoline should never be used.
* Lighting fluid should not be reapplied on charcoal grills after a fire has been started.
* Grills should not be moved once they have been ignited.
* Gas grills should not be stored in or near homes or garages but in metal sheds that are well ventilated.
Mrs. Naviasky and others in the Owings Mills neighborhood said they will be more careful about grilling outdoors.
"It's something you never think will happen. I think it's going to make everybody think twice about cooking out," she said, looking at a covered grill on a deck behind their home. "I think we might move our grill."