Efforts to de-ice roof caused fire near Rockville, officials say

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 16, 2010; 6:56 PM

Workers using a propane torch to clear ice from a roof set fire to a house in Montgomery County on Tuesday, officials said.

The two-story house, which contained artwork and antiques, was badly burned. All told, officials estimated about $1.5 million in damage, said Capt. Oscar Garcia, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.

One of the workers was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation, but his injuries were not considered life-threatening, Garcia said. No firefighters were hurt.

"We don't recommend using an open flame to clean off ice or snow from a roof, and that's exactly what it was," Garcia said.

He advises homeowners with ice or snow on their roofs to hire a professional -- one who doesn't employ propane torches. Garcia said officials were trying to determine whether the crew was licensed. The crew was using the kind of propane torch for installing rubber-type roofing, Garcia said.

"One of the supervisors noticed smoke along the roofline attic area," Garcia said.

Firefighters were called to the house in the 6100 block of Neilwood Drive, in the Rockville area near White Flint Mall, shortly after noon, arriving to find smoke and flames in the second floor and attic. Their interior attack of the fire had to be suspended after about 30 minutes over concerns the house would collapse. They controlled the fire about 1:30 p.m., Garcia said.

The owner had two antique Porsches in the garage. They did not appear to have been badly damaged, Garcia said.

About 70 firefighters were called to the scene. The owner of the home was trying to salvage the cars, flatware and Persian rugs, among other items, Garcia said.

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