By Stephanie Lipcius Palko
Three days after a fire destroyed an 18-unit condominium building in Perryville, the condominium association has announced that the building will be rebuilt.
Howard Stevens from the association told the Perryville Mayor and Commissioners on Tuesday night that the homeowners’ association has already met with their State Farm insurance company representatives and that replacing the building is a priority.
If all goes well, Stevens is hopeful the replacement building could be completed in eight to ten months.
“It’s been a really tough time for us,” Stevens said, during this week’s town meeting, apologizing if he smelled like a barbecue. Stevens, whose home was spared from the destruction experienced by 18 units of his community, said the site is still smoldering.
Stevens said he was happy to be able to announce the plan to rebuild to the town board.
“We have an agreement that we are going to rebuild,” he said, explaining the result of the association’s meeting with their insurance company.
Twelve of the 18 units destroyed by the fire were full-time homes for people, meaning they lost everything, Stevens said.
While the displaced people have been receiving help for housing and food, they have been having a hard time with another need.
“The big problem is the I.D. (identification),” Stevens said.
Occupants found themselves fleeing for their lives in the early morning of Easter Sunday. Some people left their homes without their mobile phones, wallets or car keys, he said.
While the Perryville Police Department would like to help these people with duplicate copies of driver’s licenses, they are not permitted to even make copies of the license, Chief Allen Miller said, adding he wished he could do more.
Stevens said some people have gotten copies of their licenses from their physicians. MVA branch managers are the ones to see to help get duplicate licenses, he added.
Without identification, these folks cannot rent a car or access other needs, Stevens said. Those without car keys have been told it costs $1,700 for a new key fob, he said, adding they have been working on a plan to get the fobs replaced for $200 to $300.
As for what the displaced homeowners need at this time, the town has a list of specific sized clothing needed. Stevens said that many people have found lodging, but could use gift cards for food and clothing. The town hall is a drop-off point for donations, town officials said, urging people with questions to contact them at 410-642-6066.
State Fire Marshals have come to the site to do the investigation needed to determine the cause of the fire. The emergency bunk room at the new Perryville Police Station was used by the Marshals for lodging as they worked the fire scene. Damage has been estimated to be $4 million.
Four Red Cross officials came to the town meeting to offer assistance to anyone from Owens Landing, saying they can help with moral and spiritual support as well as food and housing.
Several Owens Landing residents attended this week’s meeting to thank the town and first responders for their efforts during the fire.
“It’s amazing…the people who came out to help us,” Stevens said, estimating there were seven or eight fire companies who worked through the night in the blinding smoke of the fire to contain the blaze.
The homeowners are also thankful that all of the residents survived the fire, noting that the five who were taken to hospitals had all been released by Tuesday evening.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Stevens said.
Fighting The Fire
Raymond Ryan, III serves on the Perryville town board and is also the Fire Chief for the Community Fire Company of Perryville.
During this week’s town meeting, Ryan thanked the many townspeople who came out to the Owens Landing fire scene on Easter Sunday, offering food and beverages to the many fire personnel on the scene.
Ryan thanked the other fire companies who came to help at the scene.
He also noted the importance of the Homeowner’s Association assistance in identifying the occupants of the 18-unit condominium building destroyed by the fire and their help in identifying that all occupants had made it out of the structure.
These fire companies poured a lot of water on the Owens Landing fire. It is estimated that 800,000 gallons of water came from town fire hydrants. The fireboats from Charlestown and Havre de Grace positioned themselves in front of the burning condominium building. Each boat can pump 2,000 gallons per minute. Ryan estimated these two boats sprayed 15 million gallons of water onto the fire scene this week.
1991 and 2018: Perryville
Has Handled A Previous Disaster
The Easter morning fire at Owens Landing in Perryville was not the first catastrophic incident the town has faced in recent decades.
In July, 1991, a huge propane explosion leveled buildings in the downtown area between the Methodist church and the nursing home. To this day, that area remains an empty lot. Only some leftover poured cement pads give a clue that something once stood in that space.
This week, Perryville Mayor Jim Eberhardt and Town Commissioner Raymond Ryan, III remembered that day in 1991, agreeing that this Sunday’s fire and the explosion had one major difference.
“We had a loss of life with that explosion,” Mayor Eberhardt said. A woman living in one of the buildings destroyed by the explosion was killed and 34 people were injured.
Ryan agreed with that distinction between the two incidents, noting how great it is to be able to say that no one died or was seriously injured as a result of this week’s fire.
As for the numbers of emergency personnel and the extent of damages between the two disasters, Eberhardt and Ryan agreed that the numbers are fairly close.
Water from the nearby Susquehanna River was used during both disasters to help put down the flames.
There is another parallel between the 1991 explosion and 2018 fire. Both occurred after town officials had worked on an emergency procedure plan.
In 1991, then-Mayor Oakley Sumpter and the Town Commissioners had just completed their emergency plan for the town and that new plan was utilized during the response to the explosion and its aftermath.
Two weeks ago, town officials worked on updating the town’s emergency response plan. This update was completed after the early March windstorm caused traffic jams when the Susquehanna River bridges were closed. The storm also blew several CSX freight cars off the rail bridge.
This updated plan was used as the town responded to the Owens Landing fire scene, the Mayor said.
As with the explosion, Mayor Eberhardt said the town of Perryville will work with the victims of the Owens Landing fire to help them get back onto their feet. This will include helping with permits for rebuilding. Eberhardt said the town will contact the county to look at how the property tax status for the property will change.