City fire kills brother, sister Careless smoking is suspected. Ten families flee Glen Burnie blaze.

December 26, 1991|By Alisa Samuels and Timothy B. Wheeler | Alisa Samuels and Timothy B. Wheeler,Evening Sun Staff

A brother and sister died in a one-alarm fire Christmas Day in West Baltimore.

And 10 families were left homeless yesterday when an early morning, four-alarm fire raced through the Woodside Apartments in Glen Burnie. No one was injured, but the families lost most of their belongings.

In the fatal Baltimore fire, Mary Comegys Greene, 42, and her brother, Joseph Comegys, 47, apparently died of smoke inhalation after a mattress caught fire shortly after noon in their first-floor apartment in the 2000 block of Druid Hill Ave., a fire official said.

The cause of the fire appeared to be careless smoking, said Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Spadaro.

The dead woman's husband, William Greene, also in his 40s, awoke and told his wife the mattress was on fire, police said.

He tried to help her out of the house, but she refused to leave without her brother, police said.

William Greene then tried to drag the burning mattress from the bedroom into the hall, Spadaro said, but the mattress burst into flames and blocked the doorway, apparently trapping Mr. Comegys and Mrs. Greene in the front bedroom, Spadaro said.

William Greene managed to escape through a rear door, Spadaro said.

When firefighters arrived, they found Mary Comegys by the first-floor window and her brother's body on the bathroom floor, police said.

William Greene was taken to the University of Maryland Medical Center, where he was listed in serious but stable condition last night with minor burns of the hands and face.

Last night, investigators still had not determined who was smoking in bed.

Fire Department Chaplain Robert Grumbine gave last rites to the two victims.

Elizabeth Kensler, 49, who lives in a second-floor apartment, said she was lucky to be alive.

"I was taking the turkey out of the stove and watching the Christmas parade on television," Kensler said. "All of a sudden, I heard somebody screaming, 'Help!' "

Kensler said she escaped through the front door, while her family got out by using the rear fire escape.

"I went through the smoke," Kensler said. "What went through my mind was if everybody would get out."

She and her family were not injured.

"I thank God my family and everybody got out," Kensler said. "I'm sorry they lost their lives. I'm so sorry."

Some 21 firefighters and six pieces of equipment responded to the fire, which was declared under control 20 minutes after it was reported, Spadaro said. Damage, which he estimated at $12,000, was confined to the first-floor of the three-story brick rowhouse.

Smoke detectors sounded throughout the building, Spadaro said.

According to Kensler, the Greenes and Joseph Comegys had lived in the downstairs apartment for three years.

"I had just talked to her this morning to wish her a merry Christmas," Kensler said. "They were nice people."

In Glen Burnie, fire broke out on the top floor of a three-story building of garden apartments in the 7800 block of Woodside Terrace.

The fire was reported at 3:42 a.m.

Firefighters had to break down the doors of some units in the burning building and an adjoining one to rouse sleeping occupants and evacuate them, said Capt. Gary Sheckells of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department.

The four top-floor apartments were destroyed by the fire, which took nearly two hours to bring under control, Sheckells said. The other eight units in the building were rendered unhabitable by severe water damage.

Fire officials estimated damage to the building and the loss of the occupants' belongings at $1.25 million.

No one was injured in the fire. The 10 families who were left homeless have been offered vacant apartments in the Woodside complex, Sheckells said.

The Red Cross plans to provide the families with food, clothing and furniture, but, in the meantime, most of them planned to spend last night in nearby motels.

The fire apparently was accidental, Sheckells said, but the cause is still being investigated.

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