- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2007

BALTIMORE (AP) — An intense fire punched a column through three apartments in a small apartment building early yesterday, killing three persons and forcing 11 families to scramble for safety from the smoke and flames, a fire official said.

The deadly blaze consumed three apartments in a vertical row in a building on Forest Park Avenue in the northwest section of the city, said Baltimore Fire Department Chief Kevin Cartwright. The fire — and fears that people might be trapped in the three-story building — were reported shortly before 3 a.m., he said.

Most residents of the roughly 12 apartments ultimately escaped on their own, but firefighters found the three victims dead in a basement apartment, Chief Cartwright said.

Authorities were not immediately able to determine their identities, genders or ages, he said.

“They apparently did suffer smoke inhalation and burns, so they’re not identifiable,” Chief Cartwright said.

Authorities were investigating the cause of the blaze. Chief Cartwright said it wasn’t clear whether the victims had any chance to get out.

“If you wake up, and there’s already a smoke-filled environment, as soon as you sense something and wake up, your first breath is going to asphyxiate you,” he said.

City officials were working to find housing for the displaced residents. A city bus was brought for them at first, while city and Red Cross staffers worked to find accommodations, Chief Cartwright said.

One firefighter twisted an ankle while battling the two-alarm blaze and was taken to a local hospital for treatment, Chief Cartwright said.

The fire occurred less than two months after a fast-moving blaze in a rowhouse in the East Baltimore-Midway neighborhood killed eight persons, five of them children.

Two others were seriously injured in the May 22 fire, which city officials have said was likely caused by careless smoking.

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