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In Glen Burnie blaze and elsewhere, mix of fire and ice can be treacherous for responders

Anne Arundel County fire officials said a 37-year-old man was killed and six other people were injured as a result of a house fire late Wednesday in Glen Burnie.

Responders had to battle not only the blaze in the 400 block of Wellham Ave. but also another potentially deadly foe: freezing cold.

December, January and February are typically the busiest months for fire departments, and they can also be the most treacherous for those battling blazes.

Frozen ladders, hoses, hydrants and pumps add hurdles for firefighters in freezing weather like Wednesday’s, when crews worked to shut down the Glen Burnie fire in 8-degree weather. George Christopher Kouimanis, 37, died at Baltimore Washington Medical Center after being severely injured in the blaze. It took 41 firefighters about 30 minutes to contain the fire, according to the Anne Arundel County Fire Department.

“There’s slipping, tripping and falling to worry about,” said Capt. Russ Davies, Anne Arundel fire spokesperson. “There’s water that freezes on the asphalt, concrete, sidewalks, extension ladders. There’s frozen equipment. Those guys probably faced all those things last night — plus fighting a fire.”

Investigators say the fire was accidental and started in the basement, but are still investigating the exact cause. Several occupants were taken to hospitals; officials said a 32-year-old woman and a 5-year-old boy suffered life-threatening injuries and were in critical condition as of Thursday afternoon.

Conditions such as cold and winter wind can pose a special challenge to firefighters as they try to get fires under control. Nicholas Tyson, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Fire Department, said winds were a particular challenge for crews fighting a fire in Cockeysville earlier this month.

Two fire hydrants froze while firefighters attempted to put out a blaze in Baltimore County on Thursday night, according to department spokesman Tim Rostkowski.

The fire was on Cantwell Road near Windsor Mill. Firefighters who arrived at the scene tried the first two hydrants and found them frozen. Fortunately, Rostkowski said, a third hydrant was found to be functioning, providing a water source.

“It certainly could have been [a problem] if we were unable to secure water,” Rostkowski said. He said it was the first time in his career he had heard of two fire hydrants simultaneously freezing up.

Typically, fire hydrants do not freeze because the water valve is below the frost line, but sometimes a slight leak can cause them to freeze shut. In such cases, crews might start battling the fire with water pumps and tanks stored inside firetrucks. Tyson said the county’s trucks have pumps that each hold about 1,100 gallons. Crews keep the pumps from freezing by circulating water in the tanks once outside the station, he said.

Officials say more fire calls come in during the winter months because residents are trying so many different methods to keep warm — space heaters, fires, generators, ovens and candles.

Last January, two toddlers perished in a house fire in Baltimore’s Sandtown neighborhood. Officials said space heaters were too close to combustible material.

Baltimore City Fire Department spokeswoman Blair Skinner said winter months are “especially challenging” for residents and fire crews. She said if residents use space heaters, it is important to keep them on a flat surface at least 3 feet away from anything flammable, to not plug them into an extension cord, and to turn them off before leaving home or going to bed.

She said residents can get free fire prevention help if they dial 311 and ask for a fire safety sweep. Included are a free smoke alarm and review of a fire escape plan.

Tyson said some of the biggest problems in Baltimore County involve chimney fires. The county has had more than a dozen such fires over the past year, he said. He advised that before lighting a fire in a fireplace, residents get the chimney cleaned by professionals.

Five pet cats and a dog perished in a chimney fire Wednesday afternoon in Carroll County.

One other item of caution from experts: Do not use gas generators inside. A father and his seven children died of carbon monoxide poisoning in Princess Anne in 2015 after a power generator was placed inside their house to keep warm.

Officials also recommend having working fire and carbon monoxide detectors.

crentz@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cdrentz

Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.

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