A stubborn, wind-whipped fire raged through town houses in Ocean City's Surf Village section for nearly seven hours before it was brought under control early yesterday. It was the resort city's largest fire in about a decade, destroying 18 oceanfront houses, fire officials said.

Firefighters from Maryland and Delaware, including Ocean City Mayor Roland Powell, battled the blaze. Several firefighters suffered minor injuries, officials said.

All the town houses in the 300-foot, block-long row, built on wooden stilts, apparently were unoccupied when the blaze broke out at 4:15 a.m., fire officials said. Firefighters were hampered by northeast winds of 25 to 30 mph.

Each town house had three levels. The top two were living quarters and the bottom level was for parking. Fire officials estimated the units were 15 to 20 years old.

The fire began at the middle of the row of town houses and spread quickly in both directions, fire officials said, noting that there were no fire walls between units.

A motorist who spotted smoke rising from one of the town houses reported the blaze to the fire department.

The cause of the blaze remained under investigation. There was no immediate estimate of the cost of the damage.