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Thursday morning update:The fire has been ruled arson.

A fire Wednesday evening in the 300 block of East Poplar Street in York City damaged four houses and left two firefighters with minor burns, York City Fire Chief David Michaels said. About 23 people were displaced: 14 adults and nine children, he said.

Crews were dispatched to the scene of the three-alarm fire at 5:34 p.m., Michaels said.

Shortly after three firefighters entered one house, two called a mayday because they were trapped on the second floor, Michaels said.

Firefighters call a mayday when they are hurt to let the rest of the crew know where they are in a building and how much air they have left in their oxygen tanks, he said.

All occupants were out before the crews got to the fire, and there hadn't been any reports of other injuries, Michaels said around 7:30 p.m. He said that the Red Cross was there to help the residents.

Heavy fire: Firefighters encountered heavy fire to the rear of the houses when they arrived on the scene, Michaels said.

At 7:30, crews were still busy dousing the houses and putting out hot spots. Authorities had not determined the extent of the damage to any of the houses, but Michaels was sure the two homes in the middle were heavily damaged.

"This was a challenging fire," he said, citing the narrow city streets and the amount of work required to put the fire out.

Displaced: People displaced by the fire and their neighbors gathered in clumps at the ends of the street to watch the firefighters work and survey the damage.

Two turtles and a guinea pig sat in their respective cages in the alley across the street from the scene of the fire, their owners absent for the moment.

Sherry Dellinger stood at the intersection of Pine and Poplar streets, waiting for news. She said she lives with her husband in a first-floor apartment in one of the houses on the end of the row of homes that were affected.

"I walked out my back door and saw heavy smoke," she said.

Dellinger said she believes the fire started a few houses down from hers.

A family lives in the apartment above hers, she said.

"This is the second fire I was in," she said, sounding incredulous: a minor electrical fire last April damaged a house where she lived on Smith Street.

Dellinger said she was relying on the Red Cross for a place to stay Wednesday night.

- Reach Julia Scheib at jscheib@yorkdispatch.com.

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