ELKTON — Fire ripped through a downtown Elkton storage facility on Wednesday causing an estimated $800,000 in damage, and now detectives are trying to determine the cause of the blaze — which occurred nine days after firefighters rushed there to battle a smaller fire, according to the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Investigators reported Thursday that it appears a person or people had been living in the unit in which the fire started — Storage Unit 89, which is one of 27 units at Whalen’s Mini Storage in the 400 block of West Main Street and is located in the middle row of the units.

“Evidence of sleeping materials and use of electrical appliances was located inside the unit during the on-scene investigation,” a MSFM spokesman said.

The blaze “heavily damaged” Unit 89 and another unit while causing “moderate heat and smoke damage” to the remaining 25 units within the single-story steel structure, according to fire officials, who identified Wilbur J. Whalen, Jr., as the property owner and business manager.

Multiple passersby called 911 about 5:20 p.m. Wednesday after noticing smoke coming from the building, which, while located at the end of West Main Street, can easily be seen from nearby West Pulaski Highway, fire officials reported.

Approximately 50 firefighters with volunteer fire companies from Elkton, North East, Charlestown, Chesapeake City, Perryville, Rising Sun, Newark (Del.) and Oxford (Pa.) battled the blaze for about 90 minutes before bringing it under control, fire officials said.

The blaze caused an estimated $800,000 in damage, which includes damage to the structure as well as to property inside the storage units, fire officials added.

Residents gathered around the commercial storage complex and along Route 40 to watch the blaze, as firefighters used axes and other tools to break open doors to approximately a dozen storage units to expose the flames so they could spray them with hoses.

Smoke continued to rise from the units and firefighters continued to search for any hidden fire, as of about 7 p.m., nearly two hours after the blaze had been reported.

Wednesday’s fire occurred at the same time of day as one there last week, when Whalen called 911 at 5:23 p.m. on Jan. 27 to report a blaze at the facility, prompting six firefighters with Singerly Volunteer Fire Company of Elkton to respond, according to a MSFM press release released last week.

That fire, which destroyed approximately $100 in property inside the storage unit while causing no structural damage, had been extinguished by the time firefighters arrived, according to Deputy State Fire Marshal Howard F. Ewing, lead investigator.

Investigators identified Carl Williams as the renter of the effected storage unit.

As of Thursday, the cause of that fire also remained under investigation.

Anyone with information that might help investigators determine the cause of Wednesday’s blaze is asked to call the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office at 410-996-2793.

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