Three alarm fire destroyed a condo building in Perryville’s Owens Landing condominiums Sunday.
With help from her mother and sister, Trish Vaughan gathered up her few remaining possessions from her car Monday as the remains of a Perryville condominium building — the former home for Vaughan and 23 other people — continued to smolder behind her.
“I have nothing,” Vaughan, a registered nurse at Perry Point VA Medical Center, who moved into Owens Landing in October 2016, said.
The three-alarm fire, which remains under investigation by the Office of the State Fire Marshal, destroyed a three-and-a-half story building at the Owens Landing I community along the Susquehanna River waterfront early Easter Sunday morning.
All 24 people who lived in the building’s 18 units were displaced. Four people, including one 93-year-old woman, who was rescued by firefighters, were injured and taken to area hospitals, according to the Fire Marshal’s Office.
“Both the origin and cause [of the fire] are under investigation,” Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver Alkire told reporters at the scene Monday.
Smoke continued to rise and small fires could be seen from the wreckage late Monday morning as former residents such as Vaughan, and others tried to recover possessions or vehicles.
Part of the left rear side of Vaughan’s car had melted from the heat, and she raced to get all her things out of the vehicle before it was loaded onto the back of a carrier.
The fire was reported at 2:54 a.m. Sunday, according to the Fire Marshal’s Office. Vaughan said she was sleeping when she was awakened by a “crackling noise,” followed by a neighbor pounding on her door at 3:28 a.m. She said she did not hear a fire alarm.
Vaughan then shut the front door and got dressed. By the time she opened the door again, she couldn’t breathe because of the smoke.
About 100 firefighters from Cecil and Harford counties came to the scene. It took three hours to get the blaze under control, Alkire said.
He credited the operators of two fire boats from Susquehanna Hose Company of Havre de Grace and the Charlestown Fire Department in Cecil County for keeping the fire from spreading and destroying neighboring buildings.
Two buildings on either side of the wreckage had melted vinyl siding.
“Without a doubt, those two fire boats saved these two buildings on ether side,” Alkire said.
He said the destroyed building met all fire codes, but its suppression system could not withstand the fast moving fire.
“The fire was just so devastating, it overwhelmed the system,” Alkire said.
He said those fire safety systems, such as smoke alarms, fire alarms and sprinklers, did allow most residents to get out safely, or gave firefighters enough time to rescue the 93-year-old woman, who was airlifted to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore.
“We certainly credit that to the building meeting all fire codes,” Alkire said.
Owens Landing I, an 87-unit community, was built in 1994, according to Howard Stevens, the condominium association president. He and his wife, Diane, who have been full-time residents since 2011, live in a neighboring building where part of the siding melted. They did not have any damage to their unit, though.
Stevens said there has been an “outpouring of support” from condominium owners to their displaced neighbors, such as offers of shelter in condos or houses they own in other communities. Some people who own units in Owens Landing, but only live there on the weekends, also have offered their units as temporary shelter.
Stevens said about 12 percent of the community’s units are rentals, 25 percent are owned by weekenders and the remainder are owned by full-time residents, including retirees, single working people or families.
Vaughan said the community is an “absolutely lovely place to live — they said this was the best-kept secret of Perryville.”
Alkire, of the Fire Marshal’s Office, said investigators with his agency have estimated damage at $4 million, although insurers must complete their assessments.
Stevens said insurance companies have been “very supportive” since the fire.
He also discouraged people from outside the community from visiting to view the damage.
“They shouldn’t be here,” Stevens said, “It’s private property.”
The Town of Perryville has been working with the American Red Cross and fire companies to provide any support it can to residents affected by the disaster, according to Mayor James Eberhardt.
Town Commissioner Ray Ryan is also Perryville’s fire chief. Eberhardt said Ryan’s dual role has made coordination of services easier.
Lt. Keith Budnick, of the Perryville Police Department, and two other police officials stopped by the community Monday afternoon to check on residents.
Budnick said police want to ensure the site is secure — Maryland State Police troopers provided security Sunday while the Fire Marshal’s Office conducted its investigation. Troopers also offered any assistance they could to residents.
The Red Cross provided a shuttle bus to transport affected residents to the Community Fire Company of Perryville’s Minker Banquet Hall after the fire. The mayor said town representatives helped people go back and forth to pick up necessities, such as medication, and also informed residents of buildings that were not burned when it was safe to return.
Town officials also worked to ensure there was as little disruption as possible to water and gas service, plus they monitored conditions at the municipal water treatment plant and made sure water towers were refilled. An estimated 800,000 gallons of water was used to fight the fire, not counting the water pumped out of the river for the fire boats, the mayor said.
He called the fire “just a devastating loss” in a town of about 4,700 residents.
“Eighteen homes have just burned to the ground in a few hours, and that’s pretty devastating to people,” Eberhardt said.