By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO, mgray@afro.com

Two fires in southern Maryland left over 60 people displaced and three firefighters injured last weekend in the vicinity of National Harbor.  While there were no fatalities, at least one of them was due to negligence on the part of residents who didn’t dispose of charcoal properly.

Early Saturday evening, Prince George’s County firefighters were called to a massive blaze at an apartment building in the 5500 block of Livingston Terrace, near National Harbor in Oxon Hill.  When they arrived the three-story complex was engulfed in flames sending smoke into the air that could reportedly be seen

Fires in Oxon Hill and Fort Washington displaced about 60 people over the weekend, according to Prince George’s County Fire Department. (Courtesy Photo)

10 miles away into Northwest, D.C.

The intensity of the fire required the assistance of first responders from three other departments around the metro area. District of Columbia, Alexandria and Fairfax County firefighters collaborated with Prince George’s County Fire Department (PGCFD) in their attempts to contain the destructive inferno. Residents were forced to watch helplessly as flames engulfed all three floors of the building’s interior leaving the space unliveable.  Three firefighters were injured and over 60 people were forced to leave their homes indefinitely. 

According to Prince George’s County Fire Department spokesman Mike Yourishin, all three floors sustained heavy damage and a portion of the building’s roof collapsed. The fire took approximately two hours to contain.  After it was finally brought under control around 8:30 p.m. rescue crews remained on the scene to check for additional hot spots. 

Three firefighters who were injured sustained minor burns and received treatment at an area hospital. There were no confirmed reports of  any injuries to residents.

A total of 61 residents are now displaced and receiving temporary assistance from the capital region American Red Cross and Prince George County resources.  The residents who were displaced include 39 adults and 22 kids and are receiving lodging, financial assistance, a small cash grant and toiletry kit.

Sunday afternoon, Prince George’s County Fire Department crews were once again dispatched to a single family home after a fire started on the 1300 block of Gun Powder Court in Fort Washington, MD around lunchtime.  

A fire that broke out Sunday in Fort Washington was caused by charcoal briquettes that were not properly disposed of, according to fire officials in Prince George’s County.

No injuries were reported in the fire, but officials estimate that there is at least $100,000 worth of damage to the home. Firefighters were able to successfully extinguish the blaze and all occupants of the home were safe.

However, it has underscored the need for safety as the Fourth of July holiday and the summer’s cookout season begins to intensify over the next few weeks.  According to PGCFD officials, July is the most dangerous month of the year for fire accidents caused by mistakes by those who mishandle grilling equipment, charcoal and lighter fluid.

On average, more than 10,000 home fires are started by grills each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. That leads to  approximately 19,000 emergency room hospital visits because of injuries including 9,300 thermal burns. Children and pets should be at least three feet away from the grill area.

While this incident was due to apparent negligence when using conventional charcoal grills, gas grills are more dangerous and cause more injuries.  However, when disposing of charcoal the coals should be completely cool before placing them in a metal container.  

All grills should be placed away from the home, deck railings and away from leaves and overhanging branches.  Gas and propane units should be used outdoors only.

Only charcoal starter fluid should be used when lighting and never add charcoal fluid or other flammable liquids to the fire once coals are lit.