Firefighters injured in Takoma Park fire

Unidentified firefighter carried from the scene on a stretcher.


UPDATED: Three firefighters suffered minor injuries while suppressing a Takoma Park house fire early May 14.

Loud, crackling flames licked up the outside wall and flared high above the roof at 6802 Westmoreland Ave., waking neighbors just before 3:00 AM. The first call to the fire department came at 2:54 AM. Three calls were made by neighbors living to the side and rear of the burning house.

The house has been unoccupied for over a decade.

Firefighters quickly knocked the fire back, but battled flames for about an hour. They determined the house had no occupants. No nearby residents were injured and there was little damage to other homes. Next-door neighbor Scott Ward reported some heat-cracked storm windows. Neighbors praised the firefighters for containing the blaze.

Harsh smoke and mist from fire-hoses drifted down the narrow street, which was filled with as many as 20 emergency vehicles. The alarm brought units from at least 10 firehouses, as well as Takoma Park’s. They included Kensington, Wheaton, Riverdale, and College Park.

55 city, Montgomery County and Prince George’s county firefighters fought the blaze, according to spokesman Captain Oscar Garcia of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service. 55 is not an unusual number of respondents, said Capt. Garcia, but it does indicate that the initial responders had to call for backup.

The three injured Montgomery County firefighters were all treated and released from a local hospital.


Resident Jean Capps, whose Eastern Avenue property is behind and uphill from the afflicted house said her husband Cavan Capps was startled from sleep by a “popping” noise. Then he smelled the smoke which was filling their bedroom.

“He woke me up and it looked like the whole woods behind our house was one big bonfire,” said Capps. She said her husband immediately hosed down their backyard wooden fence.

“It seemed like it took forever for the flames to die down,” she said.

No residents were injured, and there was light damage to at least one of the next-door homes on Westmoreland. Neighbors evacuated their homes earlier, concerned that the fire could spread. It did not, thanks to the firefighter’s efforts.

Emergency vehicles encountered difficult conditions as they approached the fire. The Takoma Park area is notorious among emergency responders for having narrow streets with restricted access to homes, especially at night when streets are lined with parked cars. Westmoreland Avenue and other connecting streets are further constricted with ongoing utility construction projects. Capt. Garcia said it did not present a significant problem, however.

Westmoreland 003

Narrow streets do not usually impede response time, said Garcia. They do prevent emergency vehicles from getting as close to the fire as firefighters want to, he said.  Firefighters like to approach a fire from several angles with full access. Narrow streets and close-together houses, as found in Takoma Park, Bethesda, and other older communities, make it a challenge, he said.

But local resident Becky Smith said she witnessed a fire truck stuck on a retaining wall at the corner of Walnut and Eastern Avenue next to her house. The retaining wall separates what locals call “Big Eastern,” a wide street that runs along the DC/MD border, and “Little Eastern,” a narrow, parallel access road on the Takoma Park, MD side.

Smith said it looked like the truck turned the corner from “Big Eastern” too sharply and got the truck stuck on the low edge of the wall. “I think he might have been trying to go down Little Eastern for some reason. He blocked traffic from other emergency vehicles behind him also trying to turn onto Eastern (or Walnut). I did not witness how it got unstuck but it took fifteen minutes or so and bummed out my dog,” she said.

Randy Cohen, a “Little Eastern” resident confirmed that a truck was caught on the wall. “The fire fighters checked it out for a while and a short time later it left on [its] own.” He was certrain that if the streets were not already choked with emergency vehicles ahead of it, “they could have easily proceeded to the emergency.”

Captain Garcia was unaware of the incident. He said there were no reports of damage to any emergency vehicles or curbs.

A WSSC temporary water main on Westmoreland Avenue was apparently broken by a passing emergency vehicle. And firefighters chainsawed the corner off a wooden fence so their vehicles could get around the Allegheny and Second Avenues corner. This is not an uncommon occurrence on narrow streets, said Capt. Garcia.

Several trucks remained at the scene and work continued in the house until around 7:00 AM.

The cause of the fire is unknown but under investigation. Apparently it started at the rear of the structure, said Capt. Garcia.

Damage to the house was estimated to be $150,000.


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9 Comments on "Firefighters injured in Takoma Park fire"

  1. Gary Geck | May 14, 2014 at 8:18 am |

    Great on the scene reporting and photos. And super fast with the publication.
    I look forward to follow-up articles about the impacts of traffic calming on emergency response, safety of emergency response workers, and the effectiveness of temporary above ground water mains during infrastructure renewal project.

  2. Watch for updates. First we need some caffeine.
    – Editor

  3. Steve Davies | May 14, 2014 at 11:58 am |

    Gary’s got a good point about the “traffic calming” devices. Speed humps delay emergency response vehicles (when every second counts) and cause damage to vehicles of all types. Also, the constant shifting of gears results in less fuel efficiency and more pollution. There is also no solid evidence (feel free to look) that they actually make neighborhoods safer. Oh, and bicyclists aren’t too fond of them, either.

    Takoma Park should not put in any new speed humps or “bump-outs.” In fact, the city should work on getting rid of the many that exist. They diminish, do not enhance, quality of life.

  4. Jean Capps | May 14, 2014 at 2:21 pm |

    Great photos, Bill. We live behind the house that burned. We were awakened by the (truly frightening) sound of “popping” and the strong smell of smoke. It was sort of like the sound of a huge campfire. We looked out our back deck and it looked like the woods were a huge bonfire, with flames reaching above the tops of our (very tall) trees. It is now mid-day and we are just now getting the smell of smoke out of our house. The Fire Chief told me that the 20 vehicles from several units were a “One Alarm Fire with Task Force”. They have called for an investigation which was supposed to start after daybreak. That was only shortly after we left the scene to come home.

  5. How does one “founder” on a traffic-calming curb?

  6. It wasn’t a traffic-calming curb. Sorry about the misinformation in the earlier report – though we were careful to call it an allegation in that version. In the update you’ll see that according to a witness it was a retaining wall, not a traffic-calming curb.

  7. Shoshanna | May 15, 2014 at 9:56 pm |

    The owner came over today and boarded up the windows and doors to avoid anyone getting injured wandering into the house. So thankful that everyone is safe and hopefully recovering from a long and scary night. Glad we have such a friendly and supportive neighborhood.

  8. Jim Sebastian | May 16, 2014 at 11:45 pm |

    The real story here is the abandoned house. It’s a dangerous eyesore. The absentee owner does just enough to keep it from being condemned. This is a great neighborhood that could benefit from another livable, occupied house.

  9. Jenee Weeda | May 29, 2014 at 10:07 am |

    I was awoken by the sirens, and could not imagine the fear of those that woke up next to the burning house. We have a few abandoned house in our neighborhood just blocks away from the fire
    Residents have shared our concerns about the house with Housing and Code Enforcement
    and we are told there is nothing they can do. Even after we noticed electrical wires in a wood box attached to the house and sent pictures to the housing and code enforcment and expressed our concerns over a possible fire spreading because of all the brush in the yard, and the city has done nothing to ensure our safety. This is a public safety issue that the city needs to address. I have never been an area that has some many over grown abandoned homes .

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