Cumberland Times-News

Local News

December 4, 2010

Two die in Frostburg fire

— FROSTBURG — Two Frostburg State University students died when they were trapped by fire inside a five-unit apartment building at the rear of 82 E. Main St. early Friday, according to officials at the scene.

The victims, Evan Kullberg, 23, of Frostburg and Alyssa Salazar, 20, of Annapolis perished in the 4:19 a.m. blaze despite two calls they made to the Allegany County 911 center reporting that they were trapped inside the fire-engulfed building, according to a Frostburg city official and the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Frostburg Police Lt. Kevin Grove and Sgt. Mike Sweitzer were first on the scene at 4:22 a.m. and attempted to rescue the victims but were kept from entering the building by the fire.

“We entered one apartment and exited to back to get to the apartment where the fire was but we couldn’t get it. We tried to go through a wall and then attempted to enter from a roof on a nearby building. We busted a window out and the smoke shot out,” said Sweitzer. Both Sweitzer and Grove have served with the Frostburg Police Department for more than 30 years.

Grove suffered smoke inhalation in the efforts to rescue the two victims.

Frostburg volunteer firefighters arrived at 4:30 a.m., according to the Allegany County 911 center. The first 911 call from Salazar was at 4:27 a.m., followed by a second call at 4:35 a.m.

A Frostburg firefighter had a minor burn on his hand and was taken to the hospital along with a Shaft volunteer firefighter who suffered smoke inhalation. Grove and the two injured firefighters were released from the hospital later in the day.

FSU President Jonathan Gibralter issued this statement shortly before noon: “The Frostburg State University community is heartbroken by this tragic loss of two of our precious students. We send our deepest condolences to the loved ones of Evan Kullberg and Alyssa Salazar, and we ask everyone to keep them in their thoughts and prayers.”

The fire occurred in a two-story structure that contained five units and was occupied by 12 people, according to the fire marshal’s office. Apparently an unknown number of occupants escaped without injury but their identities were not made available. The American Red Cross provided immediate assistance.

The property is owned by P.J. Fiorita along with the Malino's Pizza Shop building that also sustained water and other damages in the kitchen. Lucky’s Liquor Store, located next door to Malino’s, and the Au Petit Paris restaurant at the lower side of the pizza shop were reportedly unaffected.

Maryland State Fire Marshal Deputy Jason Mowbray confirmed the fatalities. The cause and origin of the fire remain under investigation by four fire marshal deputies, including a K-9 unit that was dispatched as part of protocol in major fires, according to Mowbray.

Deputy Fire Marshal Bruce Bouch said smoke detectors were inside the building but it was not known if they were in working order. He said the fire was reported by a first-floor apartment occupant and that two subsequent calls were made to the 911 center by the victims who were trapped and “needed help to get out.”

“The rear stairwell was the only egress point and it was blocked by the smoke from the lower rear apartment,” said Bouch.

Bouch said investigators were checking a wood-burning stove in the building as possibly being related to the cause of the blaze. He said a rear stairwell leading to the second floor “acted as a chimney” once the fire originated on the ground level of the two-story structure that reportedly had two exits. He also said firefighters took an hour and 15 minutes to control the fire.

Sweitzer said he had placed a ticket on a vehicle in front of Malino’s at about 3:30 a.m., but there were no unusual circumstances in the area at that time.

The last fatal fire to occur in Frostburg prior to Friday’s incident was a residential fire on Water Street that claimed the life of an 82-year-old man in November 2003, according to the state fire marshal’s office.

Frostburg City Administrator John Kirby lamented the tragic loss of life in the city where major fires have nearly become commonplace over the last two decades.

“Buildings can be replaced. Human life is irreplaceable and is the most precious thing we deal with,” said Kirby.

Frostburg Councilman Bob Flanigan said, “Fires, Frostburg and cold weather don't tend to be good bedfellows. Once again the fine officers of the Frostburg Police Department have gone above and beyond the call of duty. They and the fire department made a concerted effort to get to the victims. It’s also a shame that a local business has to suffer as we try to rejuvenate our downtown.”

The firefighting operation was conducted by the Frostburg Volunteer Fire Department with a command post in front of the Frostburg Community Library. More than 100 volunteer firefighters from 30 fire and rescue companies responded to the three-alarm blaze.

The Allegany County medical examiner and the C3I Unit also responded. Autopsies were expected by the Maryland State Medical Examiner’s Office as part of the investigation.

It was 18 months ago that fire heavily damaged the former Prichard’s Hardware Store building and the adjacent Crestmont Store, which reopened just last week after a complete restoration of the clothing store property by Harbel Construction.

A fire in February 2004 extensively damaged the Lyric building, which has since been restored. A May 2005 fire extensively damaged the Mary Carol Shop on Main Street.

Contact Jeffrey Alderton at jlalderton@times-news.com.

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