Treacherous conditions slowed firefighters from recovering a body as they battled a four-alarm fire Thursday night at an apartment building on East Franklin Street in Hagerstown, city officials said.
Investigators retrieved the body on Friday morning after the fire was extinguished and the floor of the building was stabilized, according to city Fire Marshal Doug DeHaven.
“There was a report that fire crews on their attempt to make entry believed that they saw a body in the fire,” DeHaven said Friday morning as he stood at the rear of the burned-out building at 44-46 E. Franklin St. “They could not make access to it. In fact, some of the firefighters reported the floor giving away below them.”
The floor was badly damaged where the body was found, and parts of “the ceiling had collapsed on the victim,” DeHaven said.
He said identification of the body would be made during an autopsy at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore.
The body was found on the first floor of the three-story brick building, according to a Hagerstown Fire Department news release.
DeHaven said the building housed 11 apartments, nine of which were occupied. He said he was uncertain about the number of occupants.
“We’re examining an accidental cause,” DeHaven said. “We have located a witness who was here when the fire started .... We don’t expect any foul play.”
The City Fire Marshal’s Office was investigating the incident with the Hagerstown Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division, which is always the case in a fire death, DeHaven said.
On Friday morning, workers were in front of the building cutting plywood to board-up the windows. Yellow police tape was strung along the front and the rear of the structure, which is abutted by other buildings at 40-42 and 48-50 E. Franklin St.
The heaviest damage to the building could be seen at the rear.
City workers were in the process of trying to determine whether the occupants of the adjoining buildings could move back in, DeHaven said.
Rodney Clark said he was in his bedroom on an upper floor when the fire started.
He said he heard an ambulance and went to his front windows to see what was happening, but said people on the street were staring up at him.
“I went into the bathroom, and it was real hot,” Clark said. “Then I opened my (front) door, and the whole building was on fire. I grabbed my shoes, and I grabbed my hoodie, and that’s when I went outside.”
He said firefighters seemed to bring the fire under control at first.
“Then (the fire) came right back,” he said. “Flames were coming out of the roof.”
Clark said the Red Cross provided him with a hotel room and gave him a $190 debit card to buy clothes and food.
The fire department was initially called at 8 p.m. Thursday for a report of a house fire with possible entrapment at 44 E. Franklin St., the release said.
Units arrived in less than two minutes to find heavy smoke coming from the front of the building and a large volume of fire from the rear, fire officials said.
Firefighters immediately went inside the building to extinguish the flames and search for the victim, but the fire was well advanced and forced crews outside, fire officials said.
DeHaven said firefighters were able to account for all but one of the residents of the building on Thursday night.
He said firefighters had to maneuver trucks through narrow alleys at the rear of the building to fight the fire.
More than 115 firefighters from more than 19 companies from Washington County, and Franklin and Adams counties in Pennsylvania, assisted in battling the blaze.
Officials said one firefighter was treated for injuries at the scene, and another was treated at Meritus Medical Center and released a few hours later.
Firefighters cleared the scene of the fire just before 6 a.m., while officials from the fire marshal’s office remained at the site well into the morning.