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Officials: 61 displaced after Montgomery County condo fire

The scene of a major apartment fire that has left several residents displaced. (Photo, Montgomery County Fire Department)

Dozens of residents have been displaced after a fast-moving fire engulfed a condo complex Saturday morning in Montgomery County, according to officials.

Sixty-one people – 39 adults and 22 children – were evacuated and forced into the cold after flames started shooting through the roof at the Potomac Oaks Condominiums on Quince Orchard Boulevard in Gaithersburg around 4:45 a.m.

Fire officials also say that a police officer was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation.

"I can't believe everything is gone, everything is gone," said Eileen Spickler, who lives on the bottom floor with her husband.

Now two days before ringing in the New Year, dozens of people are forced to start over.

"I'm broken. I broke down, I never expected something like this to happen," said Alain Leukam, who was asleep next to his wife when he heard someone banging on the door and a woman screaming fire.

Towering flames ripped through the roof at the complex. Fire officials said it started in the attic area and quickly spread. Spickler could smell the smoke.

"I went to the front door and I felt it, it wasn't hot, but I opened the door and the hallway was filled with smoke," she said.

Spickler's husband, Barry Spickler, also was in the building at the time of the fire.

"We had to get out of the building, we were hearing people yelling in the halls," Barry Spickler said.

Police and firefighters went door-to-door getting people out of the building.

"The ceiling collapsed in the bathroom and you have water everywhere," Leukam said.

With snow on the ground and temperatures in the teens, 100 firefighters battled against freezing equipment for the two-alarm fire. They knocked down the flames, but now Marie Gassimu's apartment is under water.

"There's a lot of water inside there, everything is damaged," said Gassimu, who is now staying with her sister.

Eileen and Barry escaped with the clothes on their backs. Eileen was diagnosed with breast cancer 13 months ago, and now she's determined to beat this as well. Most of their belongings are gone and they can’t find their one cat, but there is a silver lining.

"Our wedding album didn't get damaged. I was able to grab that and it didn't get wet somehow. Don't ask me how, but miracles happen and I believe in miracles today," Eileen Spickler said.

No one was seriously injured, but the blaze caused around $450,000 major damage, according to officials.

The Red Cross and the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management have set up a shelter at Brown Street Elementary School across the street, where it helped around 60 people.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, though officials say it was likely accidental. The fire is said to have started in the attic above the top floor living space, which is adjacent and above an interior partition with electrical connectors.

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