BY ERIKA BUTLER
12:43 PM EDT, April 12, 2013
An early morning blaze destroyed eight apartments in the Hickory Hills condominium complex in Bel Air Friday morning, displacing 20 residents of the building, according to fire investigators.
Damage to the building and its contents is estimated at $1.5 million, the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office said.
The fire in the three-story, 18-unit apartment type building was reported around 2:45 a.m. in the 100 block of Seevue Court, with fire coming from all three floors, according to Rich Gardiner, spokesman for the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association who was on the scene.
Approximately 75 firefighters from eight volunteer fire companies – Bel Air, Abingdon, Fallston, Joppa-Magnolia, Level, Darlington and Susquehanna Hose in Harford County and Kingsville in Baltimore County – battled the two-alarm blaze, the bulk of which was knocked down in 25 minutes and under total control within 40.
“There was a large amount of fire coming from the roof area,” Gardiner said. “Firefighters kept it from going to the adjacent structures.”
The back of the building, where the worst of the blaze was concentrated, faces a steep downhill.
One firefighter was taken to a local hospital to be treated for dehydration, but Gardiner said she will be fine. No residents of the senior residential community were injured.
All residents were evacuated from the 18 units in the building. Gardiner said they would have to wait until a building inspector determined if it was safe for residents whose apartments were still intact to go back inside.
At one point, all firefighters were evacuated from the building, Gardiner said, “to get a better hold on the fire. We took a defensive attack, then went back in.”
"It was a fast moving fire, no doubt about it," Eddie Hopkins, chief of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company said late Friday morning. Hopkins praised the firefighters for getting the situation under control quickly and minimizing the damage.
By 5:15 a.m., firefighters were in “overhaul” mode, Gardiner said, when they sort through the debris, move residents’ belongings and contain any small, hidden hotspots.
Samantha Hendrickson’s grandmother lives in one of the apartments in the building. Hendrickson said she called her around 3 a.m. and told her that her building was on fire. Firefighters told her grandmother, Hendrickson said, that the balcony of the apartment next to her caught fire, and it “engulfed from there.”
The 62-year-old was in a neighbor’s apartment waiting to see if she would be allowed back in.
“She in shock. It’s very surreal,” Hendrickson said.
Her grandmother, she said, was sleeping when firefighters began knocking on her door, breaking it down and yelling fire and “get out, get out, get out.”
She was wearing her pajamas, flip-flops and a jacket.
Another resident, Juanita Guerassio, 79, grabbed her coat and pocketbook and left through her patio door, her daughter, Cindy Truax, said. She told her daughter the smoke was so thick, she could hardly see where she was going.
“She’s shook up, but she’s OK,” Truax said.
Her mother said someone banged on her door screaming “fire, fire, fire.”
Though the building had working smoke detectors, it was built in 1971 before Maryland began requiring fire sprinkler system in newly constructed apartments, condominiums, hotels, motels and dormitories, the Fire Marshal's Office said in a news release.
The displaced residents are being assisted by the American Red Cross, the Fire Marshal's Office said.
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