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Thursday, March 11, 2010

District Heights Apartment Fire - Alarms Failed to Work

An early morning District Heights apartment fire caused significant damage and had residents unaware that their building was on fire. An unknown Good Samaritan, described by apartment residents as a taxi driver, alerted the sleeping residents of the dangers of the fire because the buildings alarm system never sounded a warning. Thanks to vigilance and persistence of the taxi driver all the residents were alerted to the danger. Most residents escaped safely on their own, others retreated to their balconies seeking rescue.

An unattended candle left burning overnight ignited combustibles inside of a bedroom of an apartment on the terrace level of the 3-story garden style apartment at 6449 Hilmar Drive in District Heights. The residents in the apartment of origin were awakened by strange sounds and smoky conditions. The smoke alarm in the apartment did not work and was not able to provide the sleeping residents an early warning of the fire. Fortunately, the five family members, 3 adults and 2 children, were able to escape.

At about 3:30 AM, Thursday, March 11, 2010, firefighters and paramedics were dispatched to the apartment and 911 callers indicated that some residents were trapped and unable to escape via the stairwell. Firefighters arrived to find heavy fire conditions in the ground level apartment with several upper floor residents needing rescue from their balconies. As one team of firefighters effected the rescues, another team stretched hoselines into the building and initiated an aggressive interior attack on the fire. Firefighters worked for 20 minutes before knocking down the fire.

Firefighters and paramedics from the District Heights, Forestville, Silver Hill, Seat Pleasant, Morningside, Kentland, Tuxedo-Cheverly and Ritchie Fire/EMS Stations were on the scene.

Two adult female residents, from different apartments, sustained minor injuries and were treated on the scene by paramedics and did not go to the hospital. The five family members displaced by the fire were assisted by the Fire/EMS Departments Citizens Services Unit with temporary shelter.

Fire Investigators from the Office of the Fire Marshal have labeled the fire as accidental and attributed to the unattended candle. Fire loss is estimated at $100,000. Fire officials issued a correction order to the apartment complex management mandating the repair of smoke alarms and the buildings alarm system. A follow-up inspection will be performed.

The failure of the apartments smoke alarms comes at a time of the year that firefighters across the Country remind everyone that his upcoming weekend is when clocks are adjusted forward 1-hour to reflect Daylight Savings Time. This is a good reminder that it is also a good time to change the batteries in your smoke alarm. If you changed your batteries in the Fall then test that your alarm is working and practice your home escape plan. Testing your smoke alarm is so easy it can be done with just one finger; simply push the test button on the face cover of your alarm. If it does not emit a beeping sound, you need to act immediately to change the batteries or replace the alarm. Prince George’s County citizens and residents can have a working smoke alarm installed in their homes, free of charge; by calling our Livable Communities Smoke Alarm Hotline at 301-864-SAFE. Surrounding jurisdictions have similar programs, please, contact your Fire Department by calling their non-emergency number.

Citizens and residents should remember to never let a candle burn while unattended. Extinguish the flame before leaving the room where a burning candle is located and before going to bed. A candle should be based in a sturdy container and never placed near combustibles such as cloths, curtains, paper products, etc.

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