A four-alarm fire that injured three people and caused several million dollars in damages to a hotel in Catonsville began in a locked storage room, Baltimore County fire investigators said Sunday.
The cause of the fire on the seventh floor at the Days Inn at 5701 Baltimore National Pike is still under investigation, said Elise Armacost, director of public information for the Baltimore County Fire Department and Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Authorities contradicted earlier reports from hotel patrons blaming the fire on smoking materials.
Fire dispatchers were notified of an alarm at the Days Inn at 8:14 p.m. Saturday. Engine 13 of Westview station arrived first and found billowing smoke. The fire escalated to four alarms and involved nearly 70 pieces of equipment, including units from Howard and Carroll counties, Baltimore City and other jurisdictions, officials said.
Firefighters evacuated about 160 patrons from the building and the guests were relocated to other hotels and motels.
Two guests suffered minor injuries and were transported to nearby hospitals. One firefighter was treated at the scene for minor injuries. Fire investigators estimate that the fire caused about $2.5 million worth of damage to the hotel and about $1 million to the hotel's contents.
Guests said they heard fire alarms go off, then encountered heavy smoke in the hallway.
"We heard the fire alarm go off, then stop, and go off again," said Omar Oliver of Landover, who was visiting with Theresa Tolson and had rented a third-floor room.
"We called downstairs and they said it was nothing, just somebody playing with the fire alarm," Oliver said. "Then the TV went out and we started to smell smoke."
At least one guest was evacuated from an upper floor down a fire department ladder.
Sherry Forster was in town from Philadelphia to see her son play lacrosse at UMBC Saturday evening.
"I was on my way out when the TV cut out," Forster said. "Then I noticed that the elevator wasn't working. When I came out to the lobby, there was a lot of smoke."
"The fire alarms went off, then it stopped," said Foluke Onajide of New Jersey, one of dozens of family and friends from the United States and Africa who gathered at the Days Inn to celebrate Akingbolahan Afolabi's 50th birthday party.
"About an hour later, that's when we saw the smoke," Onajide said. "When I came out, I couldn't see, there was so much smoke. I couldn't even breathe."
The party guests and hotel residents gathered on the sidewalk by Baltimore National Pike and watched pillars of smoke rise from the top of Days Inn, uncertain what to do next.
"The birthday cake, our food, all of our liquor—it's all inside," Onajube said. "This is a birthday we'll remember."