After the fire was put out, I was able to take a look at the back of the townhouses and take these photos. Now it appears that the fire started in the garage of the middle unit. The garages are attached by a short walkway, so there is virtually no space in-between to fight a fire or keep the main houses from burning. The news reported that the firefighters tried to work from inside, but were forced out. It's too soon to tell, but a fire involving fuel from a car would explain the black smoke I saw pouring out when the hoses were aimed in the midst of it all.
Good news - one of the residents who wasn't home at the time, came home looking for her two cats and they were both eventually found! This was a different resident from the one I mentioned in the first post. I'm so glad no humans were hurt, but a scene on the news of a fireman bringing a gorgeous cat out to safety just brings me to tears.