Huge Adelphi Fire Leaves Residents in the Cold

A two-alarm fire tore through an apartment building in Prince George's County Wednesday Jan. 13, injuring three firefighters and two residents, and leaving dozens of families out in the cold. 

Dramatic video from the News4 Chopper shows firefighters rescuing people from the building using a ladder. Some residents were unable to escape through hallways and needed to be saved from their balconies, Prince George's County fire department spokesman Mark Brady said.

Officials said in an update Jan. 27 that the blaze sparked when an open flame on a kitchen stove ignited a flammable adhesive spray coming from an aerosol can. 

The fire in a six-story building at 9205 block of New Hampshire Ave. in Adelphi, Maryland, started in one apartment and quickly spread. It was reported at 5:20 p.m.

A veteran firefighter and a relative newcomer spoke Thursday, Jan. 14 about how they saved residents. The first crew on the scene saw two people waving frantically from a balcony.

Prince George's County Firefighter Tommy Rhodes climbed onto the fire department's longest ladder and helped lead two senior citizens out of the building. The woman told Rhodes she had had both hips replaced, he said.

"I was carrying her down, rung by rung," Rhodes said.

The survivors thanked the firefighters and said they were proud to have immigrated to the United States.

"This is one of the great reasons I came to the United States. They didn't offer this in my country," Rhodes said one of the residents he rescued said.

About 90 firefighters from the Prince George's County and Montgomery County fire departments responded to the blaze, which is under investigation and appears to have been accidental. 

Three firefighters received minor burns, authorities said. 

The two civilians who were injured both lived in the apartment where the fire started, a Prince George's County fire official said. One sustained a serious injury; the other had a minor injury. Officials said Thursday that both residents were transported to a burn unit, where they're now in good condition. They're expected to be treated and released. All three firefighters were released Wednesday night.

All 40 condo units in the building were left uninhabitable, with 101 residents displaced.

A 911 call released Thursday reveals what may have started the fire.

"What's going on?" the 911 operator asks.

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"It's a fire, in my apartment. Me, my parents -- my mom and my dad," a man says with panic in his voice. "Fire is coming out of the balcony door and something just exploded."

The 911 caller says his family is out of the apartment but he's not sure if the neighbors are out.

"We need you all to come down," he is heard shouting.

The man tells the operator what he thinks may have started the fire.

"A can exploded," he says. "Some sort of adhesive foam," he says on the recording after he is heard speaking with someone.

Fire officials said an open hallway door of the apartment where the fire started created a flow patch that generated intense flames and let the fire spread into the main hallway and onto the roof.

Wednesday night, firefighters turned off the building's electricity and gas, and residents waited in the cold and tried to figure out where they would go.

With temperatures in the 20s, resident Amani Jude let his neighbors, including young children, warm up in his car.

"It is upsetting, but ... I'm grateful because I'm here, I'm safe," he said.

Residents of four units received help from the Red Cross, officials said.

Among the people displaced is a family who moved into the building from Bangladesh just two years ago. Isadore Palma returned to the charred building Thursday to try to salvage some of their belongings. He said they were overwhelmed by the thought of having to start over.

"We don't have anywhere to live," he said.

Many residents were likely at work during the fire, Brady said, noting that all efforts were made to help people and their pets.

Fire officials said the construction of the 1960s-era building likely prevented more damage because there was no attic or crawlspace in which fire could have smoldered unnoticed. 

Dry air conditions may have complicated firefighters' efforts to extinguish the flames, Storm Team4's Amelia Segal said.

The bulk of the fire was out by 6 p.m. but crews remained on the scene for hours to ensure the blaze was out and everyone was safe. Crews had left the building by 9 p.m. 

Damages are estimated at $200,000.

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