Sixteen people, including five children, were displaced by a two-alarm fire that broke out before noon at a six-apartment building in New Windsor yesterday.
Red Cross disaster team members were summoned to assist in providing emergency relief, but several of the residents appeared ready to take shelter with friends or relatives as subfreezing temperatures were predicted for last night.
No one was injured in the blaze, according to Robert Thomas, state deputy chief fire marshal, who said no estimate of the damage had been made and that the cause was being investigated last night.
Neighbors who helped rescue several dogs and a pet rabbit said as many as eight cats and three kittens -- all believed living in one apartment -- may have perished.
Chris Harris, a captain for the Union Bridge Fire Company, said the fire started in a third-floor apartment of the converted building in the 300 block of Main St.
Charles Mullinix, 48, who lives in the building's other third-floor apartment, said most residents were not home when the fire was discovered about 11:15 a.m.
The first volunteers to arrive saw heavy smoke and flames coming from the building and entered to make sure no one was inside, Captain Harris said.
"The fire spread upward and quickly got into the attic," he said.
About 50 fire and emergency personnel from Union Bridge, Westminster, Taneytown, Lineboro and Winfield assisted New Windsor in bringing the blaze under control within about 30 minutes, the captain said.
Firefighters used Westminster's ladder truck to enter the upper floors of the three-story, metal-roofed building.
A chain saw and axes were used to open the roof while firefighters carrying hoses entered an upstairs apartment through a rear door and battled the fire from within.
Several hours on scene
Stubborn pockets of flames in the ceiling and walls erupted periodically, keeping volunteers on the scene for several hours.
John T. Connell, who has owned the building 34 years, said: "We've never had a fire here before." He said new siding and storm windows were recently installed.
Dana Smith, a resident and mother of a 5-year-old girl who was at school when the fire broke out, said one of the dogs in an up
stairs apartment might have knocked over a kerosene heater, causing the fire.
Animal control called
County animal control officials were called to tend to some of the animals, including a rabbit that appeared to suffer minor burns.
Carolyn "Nicky" Ratliff, executive director of the county's Humane Society, said her employees believed that about six to eight cats died in the fire.
"The county law sets no limit on the number of animals [allowed in a residence], but specifies that if there are three adult dogs over 12 months old, a kennel license must be obtained," she said.
Ms. Ratliff said animal control officials have been summoned to the apartment building before. She said she could not recall whether any violations were discovered at that time.