A two-alarm fire in Olney Friday night obliterated an entire townhouse, caused approximately $1.4 million in damages and displaced 20 people from neighboring homes, fire officials reported.
The fire started in a townhouse community in the 3500 block of Softwood Terrace as a result of a unidentified resident using lighter fluid to restart a wood-burning fire in the basement, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service Spokesman Pete Piringer said.
“There was some kind of malfunction with the lighter fluid can,” Piringer said. “The fire came back at him and the rest of the lighter fluid became involved. Then the fire spread rapidly.”
The resident left the door to the basement open when evacuating, which fueled the fire, according to Piringer.
Piringer said a neighbor called the fire department after noticing the neighbor’s deck ablaze.
Station 40 of the Sandy Spring Volunteer Fire Department on Georgia Avenue in Olney was the first to respond at 7:15 p.m. Approximately 100 MCFRS firefighters overall from multiple stations responded to the fire, Piringer said.
Piringer said there were “heavy fire conditions,” as crews had to operate in 10-degree weather with -5 degree wind chill.
There were no fatalities.
The man who ignited the fire was taken to the hospital to be treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation, but he was back in front of his home Saturday morning, along with a woman who also lived in the home, checking out the damage.
“I have no comment,” the man said.
A friend of the man’s said, “They don’t want to talk to you. People bothered them all night.”
According to Piringer, there was a partial structural collapse of the townhouse.
Ju Shim, a woman who lives at the end of the five-row cluster of townhouses shared hugs with a group of neighbors. Then she began crying as she walked toward her home with her son in the frigid weather. Shim said her family would be living in a Gaithersburg hotel until they are allowed to return. An investigator from the insurance company is expected to be on the scene on Monday.
For a “two-alarm fire,” according to Battalion Chief Frank Doyle, fire officials are authorized to send eight fire engines, four ladder trucks, two rescue squads, two ambulances and four command officers.
Piringer said that crews worked in two-hour shifts throughout the night to monitor the fire scene. On Saturday morning, they moved throughout the unit next to the primary home, removing scraps of burnt materials. Both Doyle and Piringer confirmed that an investigator from the MCFRS Fire/Explosive Investigations Unit also responded to the scene.
Piringer said that two firefighters received minor injuries.
Several other non-life threatening injuries were reported. The Red Cross was at the scene helping displaced residents.