Police responding to an assault at a Howard County apartment building Friday night are searching for a man who authorities said set fire to his Columbia residence before escaping.

It took firefighters about an hour to bring the fire in the 5300 block of Harpers Farm Road under control. Police said several buildings were evacuated and 17 residents were displaced and helped by the Red Cross.

Police responded to the apartment complex about 9:30 p.m. after getting a call reporting a disturbance. They said a person with injuries was in the parking lot. Police said a man then appeared at a second-floor window and shouted obscenities at the officers.

Police said they then saw the apartment on fire. Officers forced their way inside but were unable to put out the fire, police said, and the man escaped through a back window. The fire went to two alarms, although officials said no one was injured in the blaze.

Authorities did not say how the fire was started but did say it was arson.