To celebrate his 5th birthday, Jerry Fairfax was to have feasted Saturday afternoon on his favorite ice cream combination -- vanilla, chocolate and strawberry -- and a yellow cake.
He was excited by the thought, recalled his grandmother, Josephine Eggleston, 51.
"Friday he said, 'Mama, today's my birthday.' I said, 'I know. We'll have ice cream and cake tomorrow when your mother comes home from work,' " Eggleston said last night. "He was looking forward to that."
However, at 5:40 a.m. Saturday, the house in the 4800 block of Truesdale Ave. where Jerry lived with his mother, Denise Eggleston, 32, an aunt and two siblings, was engulfed in flames.
Jerry, a kindergartner at Moravia Park Primary Center, his brother, Damon Fairfax, 10, a fourth-grader at Frankford Intermediate School, and his sister, Cieria Brown, 2, were killed.
Damon was dead at the scene. Jerry and Cieria were pronounced dead later, of smoke inhalation, after being taken to Francis Scott Key Medical Center.
A city work crew repairing a broken water main in the neighborhood was able to rescue four other occupants of the house.
The workers helped John and Donna Reddick, first cousins of the children, and their 4-year-old son, Jamar, as well as the children's aunt, Alice Hampton. The Reddicks were staying there temporarily until they were able to move.
"It was like a towering inferno," said Donna Reddick, 32, via telephone last night.
"All I know is I was asleep. I don't know what woke me up. It could have been the Good Lord," she said.
Donna Reddick said she awoke to a room full of flames and black smoke and quickly got her husband and son up. Her husband broke a second-floor window and jumped. Workers told his wife to drop Jamar to them and then jump.
Donna Reddick, who suffered a sprained ankle and minor bruises and cuts, said she would like to thank the workers. Her husband, 38, received second-degree burns on his back, arms and neck and a broken ankle. He's listed in stable condition at the Francis Scott Key Medical Center, a nurse said. Jamar was uninjured.
The one-alarm fire was declared under control 25 minutes after it was reported. It caused damage estimated at $35,000 to the structure of the house and $10,000 to its contents, said Capt. Patrick Flynn, a Fire Department spokesman.
Flynn said the cause of the fire remains under investigation. Investigators believe it began in the kitchen and spread quickly up a stairway to the second floor.
"We lost everything," said Josephine Eggleston, the grandmother who was not at home during the fire. The children's mother was also away, at work.
Last night, family and friends gathered in a relative's apartment in East Baltimore to prepare funeral services and obituaries for the children, described as "the three musketeers."
"They were real close, real real close," said Karen Eggleston, another aunt.
"You never expect it to come to you," said Cieria's father, A.J. Brown, 44. "You see it on television."