- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2018

Twenty-six families in Lanham are awaiting word for when they can return their town house community, where a three-alarm fire ripped through homes under construction Wednesday.

“Some of them are going to be long-term displacements. Some of them are going to be a pretty quick turnaround,” Mark Brady, spokesman for the Prince George’s County Fire and Rescue Service, said Thursday.

No one was injured in the midday blaze that erupted on the 7700 block of Hubble Drive in the Lanham area.

But firefighters were forced to evacuate 26 families whose homes were damaged by the fire or whose utilities were turned off during the firefighting effort, Mr. Brady said.

As of 4 p.m. Thursday, a firefighter was stationed at the site of the fire as its embers continued to smolder, Mr. Brady said.

The fire ignited about 12:30 p.m. at the construction site of a four-story condominium whose sprinkler system had not yet been installed, the spokesman said. Lumber and propane tanks at the site provided fuel for flames that quickly grew into a three-alarm fire that consumed one row of houses and melted the shutters and siding on another row of brick homes.

The flames were so hot and the air so dry that floating cinders started a brush fire 300 yards from the town homes, Mr. Brady said. It took more than 90 minutes for firefighters to extinguish the blaze.

All of the town houses were built by Ryan Homes, and the estimated cost of damage is about $8.9 million, WTOP Radio reported.

Billy McNeel, a spokesman for county’s Office of Emergency Management, said that Ryan Homes is footing the bill for evacuees to stay in hotels.

“The fire stated in an unfinished building that they are building which damaged the units so they kind of feel obliged,” Mr. McNeel said.

Ryan Homes’ parent company, NSV Inc., declined to comment Thursday on whether the company would repair any of the new homes.

“A lot of those homeowners have just moved in the last three weeks,” Mr. McNeel said. “One of them moved in not even five days ago.”

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined, but Mr. Brady said fire investigators so far believe it was an accident.

Steve Conboy, a fire suppression expert and firefighting instructor, said Thursday that construction sites are at a higher risk for fire than ever before. Raw timber is vulnerable to fire before drywall protects it, he said, but many companies also build with “an engineered wood glued together with a substance that accelerates the pace of a fire within a building.”

Mr. Brady said the fire’s ferocity was unusual for the county, but Mr. Conboy said construction site fires like this can break out anytime.

“The fire advances beyond the energy of a wildfire because you have hundreds of thousands of pounds of raw timber,” Mr. Conboy said.

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