Investigators Seek Link Between Two College Park, Maryland Fires

The first blaze erupted shortly before 6 a.m. at a Best Western Hotel on Baltimore Avenue just north of the University of Maryland campus. Fire fighters rescued three adults from a third floor penthouse room after their means of escape was blocked by the flames. There were no reports of injuries.

While fire fighters were fighting that fire, they saw a large column of gray smoke shoot into the air, said spokesman Mark Brady. Rushing north on Route 1, they discovered a fire at Lasick's restaurant a few blocks away from the hotel.

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Brady said both fires appeared to have originated near natural gas meters feeding the buildings.

``The two fires are very similar, we're taking a close look at the similarity of circumstances, point of origin and the materials available,'' Brady said.

The restaurant fire grew particularly intense when the line leading into the building ruptured and the flames were fed by leaking natural gas, Brady said. The spokesman said fire fighters allowed the gas to burn to prevent its release into the atmosphere, which he said would be an even greater hazard.

Joe Lasick, son of the owner, said he felt sickened when he arrived on the scene to see the business the family has operated for more than 60 years engulfed in flames.

``I guess we'll rebuild,'' he said. ``You don't lay down and die over it.''