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Fire overtook the building so fast that maintenance man Marvin Johnson had to kick in his tenants' doors, ushering them to safety, because knocking wasn't going to be quick enough.
So fast that Dave Kroon could feel the flames on his neck as he rushed down the stairs with his eight-months pregnant girlfriend.
So fast that, before she knew it, Paulette McCargo was scooting out a window onto the roof wearing only socks and skimpy pajamas. She said all her belongings were lost to the blaze.
"I'm wearing everybody else's clothes but my own," she said, wrapped in an ambulance blanket and a borrowed hoodie, waiting on a Red Cross disaster relief crew to arrive at City Hall. "I got nothing. Everybody here lost everything. Everything is gone."
Twenty people from 14 families lost their homes as a result of the apartment fire that broke out on a frigid Tuesday morning. Three people were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, including two firefighters. Another person was treated and released at the scene. Firefighters also rescued two people who were trapped in the building.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
The building at 25 Philadelphia Ave. has 19 rooms on the second and third floors, and is home to De Lazy Lizard brew pub on the ground floor. Many locals still know the building from its past life as the old Melvin's Steak House, a family restaurant dating to the 1950s.
Firefighters battled the three-alarm blaze for more than two hours. Officials said the initial damage assessment indicates the majority of fire damage was on the third floor. From the street, the third floor appeared gutted by fire through the windows, and scorch marks appeared where flames had raged.
As firefighters continued to put out the smoldering building, displaced residents were taken to City Hall to be interviewed by fire investigators about what happened. Municipal staffers pooled their money to buy them pizza and snacks. The foyer just off the council chambers reeked of smoke from both victims' and firefighter's clothes.
"Show of hands — how many of you have somewhere to go?" asked Bob Rhode, an emergency services coordinator for the town of Ocean City. Nobody raised their hand.
Rhode said 20 residents were identified as being displaced by fire, among 14 total families. He said the Red Cross Disaster Relief volunteers would first help the fire victims to find a place to stay the night, and then get them into short-term housing.
The American Red Cross of Delmarva said in a statement late Tuesday that a shelter for 13 displaced residents was being opened at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in north Ocean City, and that meals, clothing and toiletries also would be provided.
The incident also led authorities to close the Route 50 bridge, located a block from the fire scene, in both directions for about 25 minutes.