Failed Fire Alarm at High-Rise Apartment Leaves Two Dead

System did not sound, residents never knew the building was on fire until they saw smoke


SILVER SPRING, Md. -- Two people were killed Thursday in a high-rise apartment fire that apparently began when someone improperly discarded a cigarette, Montgomery County fire officials said.

Authorities also found the building's fire alarm was inoperable and never sounded.

The blaze began in the victims' living room on the 11th floor the Blair East Apartments, said Pete Piringer, spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service. The fire was confined to one unit, though several floors outside the 16-story building were blackened by smoke.

Investigators believe one of the victims, a 75-year-old man, may have tried to put out the flames himself, Piringer said. The man also may have knocked on neighbors' doors before notifying authorities.

"There appears to be evidence that he may have tried to fight the fire," Piringer said.

The other victim was identified as a 91-year-old woman, fire officials said. Their names were not released, pending the notification of family members.

Authorities were called to the three-alarm blaze on East-West Highway about 5:20 a.m, Piringer said. It took more than 100 firefighters to put out the flames and help evacuate many elderly occupants.

Several residents of the 400 unit building said they never heard an alarm - and were unaware of the fire until rescue crews showed up. Others said they left only after seeing smoke.

"I'm very concerned," said resident Jean Green, who planned to call the building's management "to see what they plan to do to remedy the situation."

A phone message left by The Associated Press with the manager was not immediately returned.

"Obviously, that slowed down the evacuation," county Fire Chief Tom Carr said, referring to residents' complaints the alarm did not go off.

Six people were treated for smoke inhalation, authorities said.