Wind Driven 5-Alarm Blaze Challenges Maryland Crews

Dec. 8, 2008
Two homes were completely destroyed by a five-alarm fire in Annapolis late Sunday night, while four others were damaged.

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Two homes were completely destroyed by a five-alarm fire in Annapolis late Sunday night, while four others were damaged.

The fire began at 10:30 p.m. Sunday at a home in the Arundel on the Bay community, in the 3300 block of Shore Drive in Annapolis.

One hundred firefighters from three different fire departments arrived at a large two-story house overlooking the Bay to find that home and one other completely engulfed in flames; soon afterwards, the fire spread to a third house. The first two homes are believed to be total losses; the third sustained significant damage.

At one point, the wind blew the flames into three homes across the street, which were damaged when their siding partially melted in the intense heat.

The sole injuries reported in conjunction with the fire occurred when two firefighters slipped on ice that formed when water from the hoses froze on the ground. None of the homes' residents or any other bystanders were hurt.

Anne Arundel Fire Chief Matt Tobia reports that Sunday's heavy winds were a major factor in the spread of the fire, especially since the homes were located right on the Chesapeake Bay. Wind coming from all directions at a sustained 20 miles per hour made the fire much more difficult to contain. "This is probably the worst conditions that we're going to face as a fire department, in terms of being directly on the water's edge on the Chesapeake Bay, facing severe constant wind."

But neighbors claim that firefighters were substantially delayed in their arrival at the scene. Area resident Tom Cagle claims that 46 minutes elapsed between the fire's start and the arrival of any firefighters. "It's absolutely unacceptable. Totally unacceptable. It was 46 minutes before the first apparatus got here, and that was an SUV with a lieutenant, no fire apparatus, no water, no firefighting equipment whatsoever... they ran over their own hose, they broke a hose, they had to repair it and then they blew it out again. I have never seen anything like this in my life."

Fire department officials counter that the weather was not their only challenge: the waterfront community of Arundel on the Bay has no fire hydrants, so water had to be drawn by boats and piped to the scene. The roads in the community are very narrow, making it more difficult to move large fire trucks to homes. And Anne Arundel County fire officials also assert that the response time for their trucks was actually a mere nine minutes: the fire was reported to them at 10:25 p.m., they state, and personnel arrived on the scene at 10:34 p.m.

No damage estimate has been developed yet, and the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Republished with permission of WJLA-TV.

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