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Van that transports elderly, handicapped destroyed in fire


The Urban Rural Transportation Alliance, a nonprofit organization that provides transportation for Howard County's elderly and handicapped, lost one of its 22 vans in a one-alarm fire in Ellicott City Wednesday.

A home and two other vehicles were also damaged.

The driver of the van discharged its only passenger shortly after 4 p.m. in the 4000 block of Old Columbia Pike when he noticed smoke coming from under the hood, said Sgt. Robert Wiseman, spokesman for the county's Department of Fire and Rescue Services.

The heat prevented the driver from opening the hood, and a fire extinguisher did not put out the flames. The fire destroyed the 12-passenger 1989 Ford van's interior, Sergeant Wiseman said.

The flames also destroyed the wooden shutters and basement door of the passenger's home, which was about 10 feet away, burned a 60-foot cedar tree and slightly damaged two cars in the driveway, he said.

No one was injured in the fire, which was extinguished at 4:38 p.m.

"The only saving grace for the house was its construction," said Sergeant Wiseman. "It was an old stone house."

He attributed the blaze to mechanical failure in the van.

The fire caused $10,000 damage to the home and the two cars and $10,000 damage to the van, he said.

Janet McGlynn, executive director of URTA, said the fire has put the organization in a bind.

"We are always in desperate need of a vehicles. The average mileage for our fleet is 125,000 miles right now," she said. "We provide 91,000 rides a year."

The destroyed van had about 154,000 miles on it and logged 3,000 miles a month, Ms. McGlynn said. She said URTA's fleet is inspected twice a year by the state's Public Service Commission.

Most of URTA's passengers are 60 or older, and many have disabilities. They use URTA vans for shopping, visiting the library or the senior center or for other trips, she said. The organization is supported with county, state and federal money.

"I have one new vehicle, but it wasn't meant as a replacement van," said Ms. McGlynn. "We can keep up our current level of service, but we are in a jam right now."

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