After an arson fire at a Pikesville apartment complex displaced dozens of residents Thursday night, Elaine Blum was approached by a stranger.
The woman, also a resident of Milbrook Park Apartments, is a Russian who speaks no English. Communicating with hand gestures and broken Yiddish, the woman invited Blum to stay with her temporarily.
"I never set eyes on her before," Blum said yesterday, sitting in the manager's office at the Marsue Drive complex. "We're strangers."
Such exchanges are common at Milbrook Park. About 30 languages are spoken by residents, the manager of the complex said, and a significant number are of Russian descent.
"It's like a League of Nations here," Blum said. "It's full of nice people, but you just can't talk to them."
While cleanup was under way yesterday, Baltimore County police arrested a 19-year-old resident and charged him with four counts of arson. Corey Deon Oliver-Bogier started five fires in four buildings at the complex, police said. He was being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center on $1 million bond.
No one was hurt in the fires. The biggest blaze caused about $50,000 in damage to 11 units in a three-story building, where firefighters rescued some residents from third-story balconies. The units were rendered uninhabitable and were without utilities yesterday.
Investigators focused on Oliver-Bogier after residents reported that the suspect had talked of setting the fires, said Baltimore County police spokesman Bill Toohey. Police are seeking a second suspect based on information Oliver-Bogier provided during his interview with investigators, Toohey said.
The four smaller fires - one in a mailbox, and the others in interior locations at three other buildings - caused minimal damage, fire officials said. The blazes were lit in trash cans in the laundry room.
"If this had happened in the middle of the night, it would've been a different story," said Jon Hirsch, general manager of the complex.
Yesterday, Hirsch was trying to determine which units were livable and when utilities could be reconnected. A cleanup crew was clearing debris and furniture from damaged units. Tenants of less-damaged units were able to gather necessities Thursday night.
"There's primarily elderly people who live here, and they bear the brunt of this," Hirsch said.
The largest fire was reported just before 5 p.m. and had broken out in a basement storage area and in a laundry room trash can. Crews from the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company and the Randallstown and Garrison stations used ladders to rescue 11 people from balconies at the rear of the three-story building, said Elise Armacost, spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Fire Department.
Occupants of 21 units were displaced, many finding shelter with relatives or friends or through the Red Cross.
"We had neighbors translating for us," said Linnea Anderson, a Red Cross spokeswoman. The agency is assisting 11 families - 27 adults and 12 children - with food, clothing and hotel lodging.
Two other families sought help from Jewish Family Services, which has previously assisted immigrants, many from former Soviet republics, who have settled in the complex, said Karen Nettler, associate executive director.
Blum had been preparing to cook dinner Thursday evening when a police officer knocked on her door and told her to evacuate immediately.
"When you run out of the house without any money, you don't feel independent," she said. "Without shelter, without money, I just ran out of the house."