FIRE DAMAGED A ONE story building yesterday at Our Lady Center Inc., a small spiritual retreat center in Ellicott City.
Howard County fire officials said the wooden roof and contents of the 40-foot-by-70-foot cinder-block building - the only one on the remote site - were destroyed, though the walls were left standing. They estimated a $400,000 loss, including religious sale items kept in a store inside the building, which also housed a small chapel.
"I feel terrible. My husband was the founder," said Madeline Lancelotta, 86, whose late husband, Frank Lancelotta Sr., donated land for the center in the 1970s.
"We had Mass every day at 12 o'clock," she said, explaining that the center was not an organized parish church. It was a place open to anyone who wanted "to pray for peace," said her stepson Frank Jr., who lives in McHenry in Garrett County.
Howard County Battalion Chief Stephen Ricker said fire officials received a call at 3:56 a.m. about a possible brush fire from someone on nearby U.S. 40 who saw flames.
The center is 1,000 feet down a dirt lane off the 3300 block of Rogers Ave. just south of U.S. 40.
The first engine on the scene called for help when firefighters saw flames coming through the roof.
Units responded from Ellicott City and Columbia in Howard County, and from Catonsville and Westview in Baltimore County, Ricker said.
They had the fire under control by 5 a.m. and extinguished an hour later.
No one was in the building at the time of the fire. A man was on the property, apparently staying in one of two trailers parked nearby. Mrs. Lancelotta described him as "a friend" who helped out around the place.
Ricker said firefighters had to stretch hoses 1,000 feet to the nearest fire hydrant but had no problems extinguishing the blaze.
"Structurally, it's still sound," the chief said about the building.
Worshippers at the center pay homage to the Virgin Mary.
The center was the site of an accident in May 1993, when a 4-year-old boy was killed while playing on a 2-foot-high religious statue of the Virgin Mary. The boy was climbing on the statue and lost his balance, falling off and pulling the heavy object down on himself.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, officials said.
Mrs. Lancelotta said the center's manager, Veronica L. Henson, is hoping to rebuild.