Fire investigators inspect other facilities & warn owners

The fire reduced a life's worth of belongings to a charred mess, and Tracey Leffew is still taking stock of her loss.
 
"My bedroom set, my furniture, all of my belongings.  Everything.  Clothing.  My daughter's things from when she was a baby.  There are so many things.  Just going through it, it was heartbreaking."
 
It was heartbreaking not only for Tracey, but also for two dozen other customers who had rented units from Whalen's Mini-Storage in Elkton.
 
Investigators say someone living in one of the five-by-ten foot units left a heater on, which was plugged into an exterior electric outlet, and it caught a mattress and covers on fire spreading throughout the building.
 
They have since blanketed both Cecil and Harford Counties warning self-storage operators that it's a crime to allow people to make their homes inside the units.
 
"We found 34 companies operating in both those counties and did a thorough inspection of each one of those, and there actually was one other instance we found in Bel Air, located in an older portion of a storage facility where someone was trying to inhabit," said Deputy State Fire Marshal Bruce Bouch.
 
Leffew says she became aware that people were living in some of the units a few months ago when she spent the night in her car there with nowhere else to go.
 
She just didn't realize what was at stake and the impact it would have on her life.
 
"It's devastating.  As it was happening, I'm here freaking out thinking, 'Oh my God!'  This was at  the front of my thoughts---my daughter's baby book... pictures... I just lost my best friend in September.  There's things I can't get back.  They're gone.  What do you do?"
 
While unsafe, the smaller storage units may seem like a cheap option for shelter at $45 per month.
 
It's estimated the fire in Elkton caused $800,000 worth of damage.
 
 
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