(Feb. 13, 2015) An intense fire in downtown Ocean City Tuesday morning left at least 13 people with little more than the clothes on their backs, and aid agencies rushing to accommodate the displaced.
The first call came in at 9:51 a.m. for flames on the upper floor of the Lazy Lizard Brew Pub on the southwest corner of Philadelphia Avenue and First Street.
Formerly the home of Melvin’s Steakhouse, before its purchase by the Lizard two years ago, the building houses a brewery and restaurant on the bottom floor, and a rooming house on the upper two stories.
“I went out into the hallway, and this was all the air there was left,” said Marvin Johnson, the building’s live-in maintenance man, motioning with his land less than a foot off the ground.
Johnson said he and other residents crawled on hands and knees down the hall, kicking each resident’s door to make sure everyone was out. The fire spread rapidly. By the time most residents realized what was going on, there was no time to lose.
“Once I knew what was happening … your focus is on getting out, getting other people out. Material stuff can be replaced,” Johnson said.
The upper two floors of the building at are a dormitory-style residence, tenants said. A communal kitchen and bathrooms are shared by 19 single-room units.
“The smoke alarm in the kitchen goes off for nothing, like if someone burns toast,” said resident Christopher Streeks. “But by the second or third smoke alarm I heard go off, I knew something was wrong.”
With assistance from the Berlin, Bethany Beach, Showell, Ocean Pines and Roxana departments, the OCFD battled the blaze for more than two hours, according to a city release.
Two residents were unable to escape and were rescued by emergency personnel, according to the Ocean City Fire Department. One victim was treated on-scene, and another was taken to the hospital. Two firefighters were also taken to the hospital. None of the injuries were life-threatening.
One of those rescued was Sandy Cogswell, who already uses an oxygen breather for existing medical issues.
“As soon as I saw smoke, I started to panic, started having an asthma attack,” Cogswell said. “The firemen had to carry me out. Everything was icy, they did a heck of a job getting me down.”
Cogswell and the rest of the building’s residents were camped out Tuesday afternoon in City Hall on Third Street. A well-wisher had ordered pizza for the victims while they were being interviewed by Red Cross aid workers and investigators from the Ocean City Fire Marshal’s Office.
“They carried me out in sock feet,” Cogswell said. “Someone here in the city office gave me their spare pair of shoes.”
Residents concurred that the fire appeared to have broken out in a third-floor room whose tenant was not home at the time. The exact cause is still under investigation.
“I saw [the tenant’s] girlfriend after we got out and they had been at a doctor’s appointment in the morning,” Johnson said.
Much of the building’s tenancy is transient and have no other accommodations to fall back on. The Red Cross is currently housing 13 displaced residents at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on 103rd Street.
“People fluctuate in and out . . . you know how it is,” Johnson said.
“The room [where the fire broke out] was three doors down from mine,” Streeks said. “I’m pretty sure the whole third floor is gone.”
“Our volunteers were quick to make contact with those affected by this terrible fire, and worked closely with representatives from the Town of Ocean City to provide a safe and comfortable meeting place,” Patrick K. Delaney, Delmarva Executive Director of the Red Cross, said in a statement. “We will continue to work with these individuals to ensure they are supported through this frightening ordeal.”
Anyone wishing to contribute to the relief can call the Red Cross, Greater Chesapeake Region, at 410-624-2000.