Fire damages condos


About 20 people were driven from their homes yesterday by a three-alarm fire at a condominium complex in Halethorpe, Baltimore County fire officials said.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries and were treated at the scene, the officials said, adding that no residents of the Riverchase complex were hurt.

About 9 a.m., fire officials received a call about a fire in the 5600 block of Ringwood Drive. More than 100 firefighters from Baltimore and Howard counties and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport responded and battled the blaze amid high winds for about two hours, said Stephen Lancaster, a battalion chief for the Baltimore County Fire Department.

The fire damaged 12 units in the complex, 11 of which were occupied, Lancaster said. Fire officials said they do not know the cause, but that it appeared the fire began between the second and third floors.

Lancaster estimated the damage at about $1.5 million. He said it was uncertain whether the building would be condemned.

About a dozen residents stood outside after the fire was out, waiting for firefighters to retrieve some of their possessions. Many said smoke billowed from windows as they rushed to get out of the building.

Lisa Yeaton, 35, stood several hundred feet from the building wearing navy blue slippers and two coats, and had a white blanket draped around her shoulders. She had rushed from her condominium in bare feet and neighbors later gave her clothing to wear, she said.

"It's just scary," said Yeaton, who moved into the complex more than a year ago.

By afternoon, the scent of burned wood permeated the site. Steve Sieglein, 54, stood outside and recounted how the fire was the latest in a series of tribulations he has faced in recent months. His wife, Elizabeth, died in October, he hasn't had a steady job in months, and he feared that his 16-year-old cat, Puddy, had perished in the blaze.

"She and my wife were the only two things that I took care of," Sieglein said.

About 15 minutes later, he fell to his knees as a firefighter placed a gray plastic pet carrier on the ground with Puddy - alive and alert - lying inside. Her tail was damp as Sieglein snapped open the door to stroke her back.

The Red Cross responded to the scene and began working to find temporary housing for displaced families, though officials said most residents had made arrangements. Jim Hicks, a Red Cross volunteer, said about eight volunteers were stationed at a local church, offering medical services and food.

Bill Harrison, the chief executive officer of Trenton Property Services, which manages the complex, said the condominiums were built about 18 years ago. He said the company will work to make the building habitable again as soon as possible.

Ruth McLean, 30, and her mother, Yvette Henriques, 51, said they have lived in the building for about five years. The natives of Jamaica feared that their immigration documents were destroyed.

"You can replace clothes and furniture," McLean said. "But those documents - they are hard to replace."

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