NORTH EAST — An investigation is continuing after a swift-moving, three-alarm blaze ripped through an auto mechanic garage at a used car dealership near North East late Friday afternoon, displacing nine people who lived in adjacent apartments on the property and causing an estimated $200,000 in damage, according to the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office.
The blaze broke out shortly after 4 p.m. at Reb's Used Cars, which faces the eastbound lane of West Pulaski Highway (U.S. Route 40) but has an address of 513 Mechanics Valley Road, fire officials said. A Maryland State Police trooper assigned to the agency's Aviation Command Unit was in the area and was the first to arrive at the scene, where he observed “heavy fire within the detached garage,” fire officials added.
“The fire quickly spread throughout the garage, and investigators contribute the fast-moving fire to an open garage door, as well as an extensive amount of tires and flammable products throughout the shop. A vehicle was located within the garage at the time of the fire,” said Sr. Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver J. Alkire, an agency spokesman.
No one was injured.
Investigators identified David Carder as the owner of the business property, which, in addition to the detached 40-by-60-foot garage, includes an adjacent two-story building that houses offices on the first floor and three apartments on the second floor, he reported.
Nearly 50 firefighters with numerous volunteer fire companies from Cecil County, Harford County and Pennsylvania battled the blaze for approximately two hours, before bringing it under control, according to fire officials.
“Firefighters were able to contain the fire to the garage,” Alkire said, adding that the office and apartments in the adjacent building sustained “extensive heat, soot and water damage.”
The American Red Cross is assisting the nine displaced people, he reported.
Cecil County Public Schools officials reported that one of the fire trucks heading to the scene was involved in an accident with a C. Milton Wright High School (Harford County) bus near Rising Sun and that no one was injured.
The blaze moved swiftly, sending flames through the roof of the garage and thick, black plumes of smoke high into the sky. The billowing black smoke could be seen from the intersection of Route 272 and Lums Road, more than a mile away, standing out clearly amid a backdrop of gray clouds.
While waiting to make a left turn onto Mechanics Valley Road from westbound Route 40 shortly after 4 p.m., Richard Raftery and his wife witnessed how quickly the garage burned.
“My wife said, 'Hey, look, there's smoke over there.' I saw a guy running out of the garage and then it went up, just like that. He got out in the nick of time,” Raftery said.
The blaze caused major traffic backups in the eastbound lanes of U.S. Route 40, which emergency workers were forced to block from the intersection at Route 272 and Route 40, west of the scene, to Mechanics Valley Road. A portion of Mechanics Valley Road, south of Route 40, also was closed due to the fire. In addition, jams occurred in and around downtown North East because of the heavy detour traffic.
As of Saturday morning, a team of MSFMO fire detectives continued investigating in an effort to pinpoint where the blaze started and what caused it, Alkire reported.