- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

BALTIMORE — Six persons were killed and seven others were seriously injured yesterday in an early morning fire that engulfed a family’s row house within minutes.

Authorities haven’t determined the cause of the blaze, which Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. said is “probably the worst I’ve seen in my 32 years as a firefighter.”

Officials said they think the fire began on the first floor of the two-story brick house, located on Cecil Avenue across from Greenmount Cemetery, a historic graveyard in the city’s northeast quadrant.

The fast-moving fire was reported about 7:20 a.m., with 10 emergency calls coming in from neighbors and passers-by. Firefighters responded three minutes later and found both floors of the home on fire, with several victims trapped inside.

Four of the deceased were found in a second-floor bedroom and one was at the base of the stairs, Chief Goodwin said. A 5-year-old boy rescued by firefighters later died at a hospital. The other five persons killed in the fire were burned beyond recognition.

“It was something nobody should have to see,” Chief Goodwin said. “No one should have to die that way.”

Officials yesterday did not identify the victims, nor did they say what their relationships were.

Debra Jones, 28, who lives three houses down, made one of the emergency calls after waking up and smelling the fire.

“I ran into my kids’ rooms because I thought it was my house,” Miss Jones said. “I looked out the window and I saw smoke.”

After rounding up her family, Miss Jones rushed outside to help and saw a woman trapped upstairs.

“I’m telling her to jump. But when she did, it was too late, she was already on fire. … It was like a big ball of fire that came out the window,” Miss Jones said. “I run to the door and kick it in, but there was so much smoke, nobody could get in there.”

Officials said a 3-year-old girl, a 27-year-old woman, a 27-year-old man, and a 43-year-old woman were critically injured.

A 4-year-old girl, who jumped from a window on her own, was hospitalized with less-serious injuries, as were a 30-year-old man and a 20-year-old woman.

Miss Jones said the family moved into the neighborhood about five months ago and had previously lived in the row house next door to the damaged home. That house was vacant at the time of yesterday’s fire.

The owner of the house, O. Roosevelt Carlest, told the Associated Press he rented it in October to a woman with two sons, including one confined to a wheelchair.

Mr. Carlest said he knew that a large number of people lived there, and he had been trying unsuccessfully for several months to evict the family for not paying their rent.

One neighbor, who identified himself only as Mike, said a man he knew only as “Nick” was one of those who died in the fire.

“He actually made it out, but he went back in and gave his life trying to get the kids out,” he said. “He put his life on the line today.”

Chief Goodwin said it isn’t yet clear whether there were working smoke detectors in the home.

He said fire officials twice visited the home during routine door-to-door inspections to check for working smoke detectors in February and September of 2005. No one was home in February, and the home had working detectors in the September inspection.

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, who was in Las Vegas at the International Council of Shopping Centers, said she has been receiving updates from Chief Goodwin and has ordered the city’s health department and Housing Authority to help the families.

“I can only imagine the heartbreak and pain that those who lost a loved one in the fire must feel, and I offer my sincere condolences to all those dealing with this terrible event,” Mrs. Dixon said in a statement.

Chief Goodwin said the deaths are likely the most in a city fire since October 2002, when Carnell and Angela Dawson and their five children were killed in a firebombing at their East Baltimore home.

Their house was targeted by a small-time drug dealer in retaliation for Mrs. Dawson’s repeated complaints to the police about drug dealing in her neighborhood.

Chief Goodwin said arson is not suspected but hasn’t been ruled out. He said accelerant-sniffing dogs did not immediately detect any flammable substances.

Grief-stricken neighbors watched solemnly on the block outside the house, as fire officials tossed the charred debris inside the home from a second-story window onto the street.

“By the time we got out there, it was nothing we could do,” said a tearful Toiyon Campbell, 25, who lived with Miss Jones. “They were all just the nicest people.”

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