- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

An early morning fire in a Southeast row house yesterday killed a family of four, including two young girls.

Investigators last night had not determined the cause of the two-alarm fire that broke out about 4 a.m. in the 400 block of 17th Street SE, said D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services spokesman Alan Etter.

David Ferguson, 70, died after jumping from a second-story window as the house burned. The bodies of Daisha Reid, 5; Alisha McAllister, 11; and Joy Hellams, 30, were found on the second floor.

An 8-year-old boy escaped from the fire. A 57-year-old man who rented out the family’s basement was thought to be missing, but was later found unharmed, Mr. Etter said.

It was the deadliest fire in the District in three years. The last time a fire took more than one life was July 17, 2001, when a house fire in the 400 block of Lamont St. NW killed Kenisha Blanchard, 8, and her half-sister, Tionna Blanchard, 7.

The fire yesterday consumed most of the building’s interior, burning through the floors and the roof.

Firefighters battled the blaze, which apparently started in the basement, for 90 minutes. Strong winds and below-freezing temperatures hampered their effort, Mr. Etter said.

“Once the fire got outside, the wind really fanned it and the cold weather made it difficult, as well,” he said.

Yesterday afternoon, the family’s charred belongings lay in a pile in the front yard. A pair of soot-stained pillows poked out of a mound of debris beside a brightly colored toy lawn mower and an unopened present decorated with Christmas wrapping.

Relatives and neighbors of the victims were traumatized.

A group of men stared in disbelief at the burned-out house. “Right now is not a good time,” one of the men said. “We’re real close to the family.”

The niece of the oldest victim arrived at the scene, her head hung low as she was ushered into a neighbor’s home. She said her uncle was a good man.

Firefighters did not recover the body of the 5-year-old girl until 2:15 p.m. yesterday because fire damage complicated the search and the girl was buried beneath a pile of burned timber, Mr. Etter said. “The building had begun to collapse,” he said.

The bodies of the other victims were found early yesterday.

• This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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