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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Upper Marlboro 2-Alarm Townhouse Fire

MEDIA CONTACT: Mark E. Brady, Chief Spokesperson, 240-508-7930

Firefighters from the Upper Marlboro area fought a well-advanced fire in a row of townhouses Tuesday evening.  Just after 6:30 pm, Tuesday, August 21, several 911 calls were received by Public Safety Communications reporting a fire at a townhouse in the 13900 block of Fareham Lane.  Firefighters from the Upper Marlboro Fire/EMS Station #820, Pratt Street, were the first to arrive and found a 3-story, sprinklered, light weight construction, middle of the row townhouse in a row of 5 with heavy fire showing.

It appears that an adult male occupant was making mechanical repairs to a motorcycle in the garage.  The garage is on the first level and underneath the townhouse.  He accidentally ignited liquids in the garage while repairing a motorcycle.  He sustained a small area of burns to his arms during the ensuing fire.  There are no residential sprinklers in the garage.

The fire spread rapidly through the garage and eventually out of the open garage door and up the side of the townhouse.  Fire extended up to the attic area by way of the exterior wall and eventually burned into the second and third floors.  The townhouse is equipped with a residential sprinkler system, however, the system did not activate because the fire was on the homes exterior.  Once the fire extended into the attic and then the 2nd and 3rd floors of the house the sprinklers did activate, however, the fire had already intensified to the point that the sprinklers were ineffective.  Sprinkler systems are designed to extinguish a fire in the incipient stages and allow occupants additional seconds to exit their home.

Firefighters are aware of the risks of associated with fighting a fire in a structure built using lightweight construction.  Almost any new construction over the past 20+ years have used a variety of construction methods and building products, particularly wooden truss roofing systems and wood I-joists.  Fires in these types of structures burn hotter and faster and increase the potential for sudden and catastrophic structural failure.

The townhouse of origin was involved with heavy fire as firefighters made an interior attack on the fire and search for anyone still inside.  Crews were working in fire building and inside the two attached townhomes in an attempt to stop the fire extension.  Firefighters in the building of origin were making progress on the lower floors, however, the fire above them was growing in intensity and despite the crews efforts in the attached homes, the fire extended to the townhouses on both sides.  As the fire continued to grow and extend to other homes, the incident commander made a correct decision in evacuating all personnel from the interior of the building with a plan to knock down the bulk of the fire from the exterior.  Once outside all firefighters were accounted for and provided an opportunity to rest before being sent back inside once the exterior master stream devices had knocked down the bulk of the fire.  A Second Alarm was sounded bringing additional Fire/EMS resources to the scene to assist in battling the fire.  There was a total of about 60 firefighters and paramedics on the scene.  It required about 45 minutes to extinguish the fire.

The homeowner was transported to a Burn Unit for treatment of his injuries, he was in good condition and his stay at the Burn Unit was anticipated to be just a matter of hours.  Three families, 5 adults, 1 child, 1 dog and 1 cat, are displaced.  Each family has made their own arrangements with alternative housing.  The County Citizen Services Unit was on the scene assisting the displaced residents.  The CSU located family pets, alive, inside the damaged structures well after the fire had been extinguished.

The cause of the fire is “accidental.”  Fire loss is estimated at $500,000 for the three structures and their contents.

For additional information on the risks associated with fighting fires in structures involving lightweight construction I encourage you to visit the Underwriters Laboratory web site.  Structural Stability of Engineered Lumber in Fire Conditions provides an excellent insight into the matter.

Fire burns through the roof of an Upper Marlboro townhouse.  Photo courtesy of NBC4 web.

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