ELKTON — A woman allegedly torched her home near Elkton on Thursday afternoon, gutting the house and displacing herself and three other adults who lived there, according to the Maryland Office of the State Fire Marshal.
No one was injured in the swiftly-spreading blaze — but one of the occupants made a narrow escape from the burning house, with the help of a man who was performing gutter work on a house diagonally across the street in the unit block of Cherry Lane, a short distance off Fletchwood, northeast of Elkton, fire officials reported.
A responding Cecil County Sheriff’s Office deputy spotted the woman who allegedly set the fire, as she was walking on the street a short distance away from the burning house, and detained her, fire officials said. As of late Thursday afternoon, fire officials added, MOSFM detectives were interviewing that woman at the Maryland State Police North East Barrack.
“No charges have been filed at this point,” Sr. Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver J. Alkire said at the fire scene.
Alkire confirmed that two nearby contracted employees — Travis Sellers, 25, of Wilmington, Del., and Averee Hammond, 24, of Newark, Del. — witnessed the events leading up to the alleged arson. Alkire also confirmed that Sellers called 911 at 1:15 p.m. Thursday, before running across the street to help a woman climb out of one of the burning house’s basement windows.
The woman who allegedly set the fire had been arguing sporadically throughout the day with a man who also lives at that Cherry Lane residence, according to Sellers and Hammond, who are employed by the Everything Gutter company.
For the most part, the woman remained alone in a chair on the front lawn, muttering to herself and yelling at times when there was no one in sight, the workers said. She exchanged words with the man whenever he came out to the front porch, they added.
Shortly after 1 p.m., however, the woman rose from the chair in the front lawn, grabbed a trash can that was on the front porch and ignited the contents inside of the receptacle, according to Sellers and Hammond.
“It was spur of the moment. She got up out of her chair in the grass, lit the trash can, opened the door and threw it into the living room. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Sellers said.
Then she grabbed a package that was inside the mailbox and torched it, too, before also tossing that burning item into the house, according to Sellers and Averee.
“We saw the flames inside the house and I said, ‘Oh, my God, call the fire department’,” Averee said, adding, “The fire was spreading very fast.”
While Sellers was talking to the 911 dispatcher, after providing the most important pieces of information, he cut the call short.
“I saw a lady open the basement window. She was trying to climb out, so I ran across the street and helped her climb out, “ Sellers said.
The two workers saw a man run out the back door of the the burning house with a pet dog, they said.
“The woman who started the fire, she left, barefoot, down the street,” Averee said, noting that, at that point, the fire wasn’t evident.
Shawn and Samantha Malloy, who live directly across the street from the Cherry Lane house, did not witness the events leading up to the fire — but the sounds of the blaze caused them to stir, according to the couple.
“We were downstairs and we heard two loud pops. We thought they were gunshots,” Shawn Malloy told the Cecil Whig. “We run up the stairs and saw that the house was fully involved, just engulfed in flames.”
Paramedics arrived at the scene first and reported that there was “heavy fire at the front of the house and that it was rapidly spreading through the house,” according to Alkire.
Singerly Volunteer Fire Co. of Elkton arrived next and, by then, flames were shooting out every window of the house, in addition to the roof, Alkire reported.
Approximately 40 firefighters, made up of members from several area volunteer fire companies, battled the blaze for about one hour, before bringing it under control, fire officials said. SVFC served as the on-scene command unit, fire officials added.
The fire destroyed the two-story home, displacing the four occupants — a man and three women, including the female who purportedly set the fire, according to Alkire. The American Red Cross is assisting the displaced residents, he reported.
As of late Thursday afternoon, MOSFM detectives still were interviewing the woman who allegedly set the fire and the investigation was continuing.