Beauty shop owner Vickie Egerton said the smell of smoke drew her to Apartment 107 at Eudowood Towers in Towson yesterday. But when she banged on the door, the man inside shooed her away without opening the door.
"'Lady, get away from here,'" Egerton recalled the man saying. "'I have a fire in here. Get away.'"
Egerton, whose Generations Family Salon is down the hallway from the apartment, said she called the building's office manager and returned to the apartment with an employee. By then, black soot was seeping around the door's edges as she and the employee banged on the door again. Hearing no response, Egerton said, she called 911 shortly before 11:30 a.m.
When firefighters arrived, they found John Louis Hanges, 77, dead in his apartment in the six-story building in the 1000 block of E. Joppa Road, Baltimore County police and fire officials said.
The fire's cause is being investigated, but it appears to have been accidental, police spokesman Bill Toohey said. Hanges is thought to have lived alone, and no one else was in the apartment when the fire started, Toohey said.
The fire began in the living room, where they found Hanges' body, fire officials said.
Firefighters extinguished the blaze in about 10 minutes, and residents, who had been evacuated, were allowed to return to their apartments, fire officials said. A stretch of Joppa Road was closed for about two hours.
By early afternoon, the stench of smoke lingered as residents and salon patrons milled about the parking lot. They talked about how little they knew of the man who lived in the first-floor apartment. Most didn't know his name, and many said they had never seen him.
Earl Ihle, who has lived at Eudowood for 12 years, said Hanges used a wheelchair and that his niece helped care for him. He said he often offered to drive Hanges, who he said mostly kept to himself, to the store but that Hanges insisted on calling a cab instead.
Margaret Garwood, who has lived in the apartments for about seven years, said Hanges "was stubborn, but he didn't bother anybody. He was a very independent man."
Garwood said she first thought the fire alarm was part of a recent announcement that the building's owners planned to inspect the property's fire alarms.
"But when I came out of my apartment, someone said [the alarm] was for real," she said.
Alexandra Lovullo and Aeron Fertig, both 23, said they were at work when they heard about the fire and rushed to their second-floor apartment to find that firefighters had broken through their front door and apparently used an ax to enter Lovullo's bedroom.