The cause of the fire at the complex on West Baltimore Street in Hagerstown is under investigation, city Fire Marshal Doug DeHaven said.
Several residents who were exposed to smoke were evaluated at the scene by Community Rescue Service, but none required treatment, according to DeHaven and Hagerstown Fire Department Battalion Chief Adam Hopkins.
The complex consists of two connected, high-rise buildings that provide housing for elderly and disabled residents. The 14-story Potomac Towers North has 200 apartments and the eight-story Potomac Towers South has 126 units, according to the Hagerstown Housing Authority website.
Smoke was reported in the upper floors of the larger building around 8:20 p.m. and an alarm monitoring company reported smoke detectors activating on the seventh and 12th floors. Firefighters arrived to find smoke throughout the building, DeHaven said.
Trash stuck in the chute around the fifth floor was burning, but the sprinkler system in the chute activated and the debris slid down into the bin and compactor in the basement, he said.
“The sprinkler did its job and kept it as a contained fire that we were able to deal with quickly,” Hopkins said. “We would have had a much larger fire in the basement and a more significant smoke condition throughout the building.”
Firefighters extinguished the burning debris in the basement in about 10 to 15 minutes, he said, but were on the scene for a total of about two hours cleaning up water on the third and fifth floors and venting smoke from the building.
Some residents evacuated and others were permitted to go out onto their balconies to get away from the smoke, Hopkins said.
He estimated one group of about 25 people evacuated on one side of the building, and a group of about 40 people exited to the other side.
“We had a significant number of occupants who were affected by this fire,” DeHaven said.
Fire doors between the two buildings were closed, and the smaller building was not affected, Hopkins said.
DeHaven said damage was contained to the trash chute, compactor and bin, and water in the basement flowed into floor drains.
Responding with the Hagerstown Fire Department and Community Rescue Service were units from Funkstown Volunteer Fire Co., Halfway Volunteer Fire Co., Longmeadow Volunteer Fire Co., Maugansville Goodwill Volunteer Fire Co., Leitersburg Volunteer Fire Co. and the Washington County Special Operations and Emergency Air units, Hopkins said.