Christmas Day blazes displace 8 families 2 die Careless smoking blamed for deaths in West Baltimore

December 26, 1991|By John Rivera N

Two West Baltimore residents died and two others were injured in a Christmas Day apartment fire that officials said was caused by careless smoking.

The 12:05 p.m. fire, which swept through the first-floor apartment of a three-story row house at 2004 Druid Hill Ave., was caused by an occupant of the first-floor apartment smoking in bed, city fire investigators said. However, it was uncertain last night who had been smoking.

Firefighters arrived at the scene to find Joseph Comegys, 47, dead on the floor of the front bedroom and his sister, Mary Comegys Greene, 42, dead near a front window, officials said.

Marshall Pearl, who lives in the first-floor apartment next door, said he had been cooking in his kitchen when he saw smoke coming from the row house. Then he saw William Greene, the husband of Mary Greene, standing in the row house's back yard.

"I asked him what was wrong. I figured he was in there cooking something and it was burning. And he told me that the house was on fire," Mr. Pearl said.

Mr. Pearl said he went into his back yard and saw smoke and flames shooting from Mr. Greene's apartment. He went back inside and called the Fire Department, then headed out his own front door.

Several neighbors climbed an outside fire escape to help evacuate the second and third floors of the burning house. Meanwhile, Mr. Greene, unable to enter the back of his house, ran around to the front. When Mr. Pearl next saw him, he was dragging a smoldering mattress from the front bedroom into the hallway when it burst into flames.

"There was nothing else he could do," Mr. Pearl said.

He said the burning mattress blocked the doorway, apparently trapping Mr. Comegys and Mrs. Greene in the front room.

"She must have been trying to get out that window, because that's where her body was, her arm hanging out of the window," he said.

Both Mr. Comegys and Mrs. Greene had been in poor health and were unable to move quickly.

"She was quiet, stayed in the house most of the time, cooking or watching television," Mr. Pearl said.

Her brother "was so sick he could hardly walk," Mr. Pearl said. "He had bad legs. He walked with a cane."

Mr. Greene received first- and second-degree burns over 5 percent of his upper body. He was taken to the University of Maryland Medical Center, where he was listed in serious but stable condition last night.

Another resident of the building, Margaret Clayton, 68, was taken to the same hospital where she was treated for smoke inhalation. She was in stable condition last night.

Fire investigators said the blaze caused $12,000 in damage. The apartment was equipped with smoke detectors, which did sound during the fire.

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