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  • When Bayside Beach resident Chris Carroll lost everything in a house fire, his neighbors — led by Shelly Allocco, president of the community improvement association — came together to collect gift cards for him.
    Dylan Roche
    When Bayside Beach resident Chris Carroll lost everything in a house fire, his neighbors — led by Shelly Allocco, president of the community improvement association — came together to collect gift cards for him.

Bayside Beach Reacts To Tragic House Fire With Acts Of Good Will

Dylan Roche
View Bio
June 14, 2017

St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t the luckiest of days for the Bayside Beach community, but in the months since a house fire destroyed one home and damaged two others, the residents of the neighborhood have come together to support one of their own, to count their blessings and to reflect on valuable lessons.

Chris Carroll wasn’t even in the country when he heard his Lake Drive residence was on fire. “I was on a cruise, and we were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, and all of a sudden, I get pictures of my house. My neighbors were sending me pictures, ‘This is your house.’ And I’m freaking out.”

The fire started, Carroll later learned, with some cigarette butts left by contractors who were working on new cabinets and flooring in his kitchen. The Anne Arundel County Fire Department received its first call at 8:53pm and was on the scene within 10 minutes, by which time the wind had blown the flames to spread over to the houses next door. It took about 80 firefighters and thousands of gallons of water to extinguish the fire.

Nobody was hurt, but Carroll was unable to salvage anything.

Almost immediately, neighbors sought a way to help. “It was a community effort,” said Shelly Allocco, president of Bayside Beach Improvement Association. “[Neighbors] called me and said, ‘What can we do? What can we give him?’ Collectively, we said, ‘There’s nothing we can buy him now because he doesn’t have a house to put it in. Let’s get gift cards and he can buy whatever he needs when he needs it.’”

Allocco set a plastic box out at a neighbor’s house where people could drop off donations. “We collected a couple hundred dollars’ worth of cards,” Allocco said. “Everyone wanted to do something because [the fire] was terrible — it was one of the worst things we’ve ever seen.”

But she said the many acts of benevolence came as no surprise to her. “People are really generous and people-conscious,” she said of Bayside Beach.

After weeks of collecting donations, the neighborhood presented its box of gift cards to Carroll at a late-spring meeting of the improvement association.

Carroll was touched. “The insurance company will help me out and take care of everything, but it doesn’t take care of the grief and all the trouble you have to go through losing your memories, so it was nice of them to be that thoughtful and to help me out,” he said.

The house had been Carroll’s parents’ house before it was his, and among the belongings lost in the fire were paintings done by his mother and his daughter, along with hard drives of home videos and photos he had recently transferred to digital.

Receiving that support from his neighbors — some of whom Carroll had only exchanged friendly hellos with in the past — meant much to him. “Strangers who I don’t really know came together,” he said. “It was nice — it was really, really nice.”

Preventing And Fighting Fires

Although the Anne Arundel County Fire Department responds to about two or three house fires each week, sees only about 10 fires of this magnitude each year, according to spokesman Captain Russ Davies.

In the case of Pasadena and other peninsula communities, the roadways aren’t the biggest problem. “The biggest hurdle we face are the houses that aren’t on the public water supply,” Davies said. “With these houses, there aren’t fire hydrants in that area, so we end up using tanker trucks and bringing additional water to the scene.” For the initial response, three tanker trucks — holding a total of 3,000 gallons of water — are used.

For the Bayside Beach fire, AACFP had to call for a second alarm, meaning that a second set of resources — engines, tankers and people — had to be brought in.

“A fire of this scale is less frequent,” Davies said. “It involved three dwellings, and we had 80 firefighters on the scene. That doesn’t happen as often.”

Unlike the circumstances in the Bayside Beach fire, most fires in Anne Arundel County are contained to one room, such as a kitchen or bedroom, and are most commonly caused by heating appliances in the winter and unattended cooking other times of year.

Davies recommends that people have smoke alarms on every level of their homes and in every sleeping area, and that people test them once a month and replace them every 10 years.

Rebuilding What Was Lost

Carroll is now in the midst of planning to rebuild his house. His biggest challenge, he said, is getting the permits from the county. If all goes according to plan, he will be able to start construction in August or September. Until then, he is staying with his girlfriend and having the grass cut every week.

He is grateful, however, that the fire did not spread to his pier or his boat, so he is still able to get out on the water and clear his head. “The boat gives me some sanity,” he said, “to get away from things.”

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