He awakened to heavy smoke as the fire spread from the front porch of his home on Fair Avenue in Westminster just after two o'clock in the morning, and the victim, identified by friends as Joe Staley, could do little more than watch as two dozen firefighters battled the flames over the next 20 minutes.
"Joe is such a great guy,” said Tracy Heater, “There's just a massive outpouring for him, because he's such a good guy. He's always there for everybody else. So when I found out this morning... Sorry, it's making me cry. When I found out this morning, I was devastated for him."
The fire left behind piles of charred rubble on the first floor of the home, and its heat so intense it melted the siding off a neighboring house.
The victim barely escaped with little more than the clothing he had on at the time.
"Obviously, he was distressed and the neighboring house had damage as well, but the community had come together,” said Caroline Babylon of the Westminster Fire Department, “We had firefighters everywhere from five different companies who came to help, and at the time, BGE had turned off the power and the fire marshals were investigating."
In addition to neighbors and his friends from the local VFW and American Legion post, some of the victim's co-workers from CJ Miller Excavating based in Hampstead also were drawn to the condemned home hoping to rally around a man who has given so much of himself to his community.
"He was lucky. That's just a blessing from God. Thank God that he did make it out and that we're having this conversation instead of having a different conversation,” said Heater, “I'm just happy that he got out, but it's going to be a long road to recovery for him. It's going to take some time and it's certainly going to take support and we're here to do that for him."
While many remained puzzled by how such a fire could start where it did in the wee hours of the morning, the State Fire Marshal's Office is still investigating its cause and has not deemed it suspicious nor an act of arson at this point.