A retired West Baltimore pastor was killed, and his wife was critically injured yesterday when an electrical fire broke out in their basement apartment in the former Frederick Douglass High School building.
As thick black smoke began to pour into the hallways, the other residents -- many of them elderly -- were quickly evacuated by firefighters and took refuge in an adjacent health center. About 30 children between the ages of 2 and 5 were also quickly removed from a day-care center located in one section of the building, which occupies a square block in the 1600 block of North Calhoun Street in West Baltimore.
The four-alarm fire caused damage estimated at $125,000. Most of the tenants were able to return to their apartments last night after the building had been completely ventilated.
The fire broke out just before 1 p.m. in apartment No. 116 on the basement floor of the four-story brick building. Faulty wires in a bed room baseboard ignited a bed, said Capt. Patrick P. Flynn, a Fire Department spokesman.
Firefighters found the body of the Rev. Oliver Page, who was in his 80s, on the bathroom floor of the apartment. It appeared that he had attempted to put out the fire himself but was overcome by smoke and collapsed, Captain Flynn said.
His wife, Sally Page, also in her 80s, was found lying on the floor in an adjacent room. She was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where she was reported in critical condition last night.
Investigators said they found the water still running from a tap in the bathroom after they were able to enter the apartment.
The blaze spread upward through ducts to an apartment directly above the Pages'. Captain Flynn said damage was confined to the two apartments.
Two other occupants of the building suffered from smoke inhalation and were hospitalized. Raymond Latham, 70, was taken to Maryland General Hospital, where he was in fair and stable condition. Virginia Harrison, 76, was reported in good condition at University of Maryland Medical Center, officials said.
A city police officer was also taken to University for treatment of a knee injury suffered when she slipped on wet steps.
Mr. Page was pastor emeritus of Gethsemane Baptist Church in the 2500 block of Francis Street. West Boyd, a friend of the couple for more than 25 years, said Mr. Page retired from the active ministry six or seven years ago.
"They were regular church people, they were," Mr. Boyd said as he stood in the hall way, looking toward the Pages' ruined apartment. "They never went anywhere, unless the people from the church came and took them."
He said a deacon of the church told him he had prepared a meal for the elderly couple yesterday morning and saw them at their dining table about 11:30 a.m. Mr. Page was well-known for his preaching, and Mrs. Page had played the piano for church
services, Mr. Boyd said.
Frederick Douglass High School closed at that location in 1954. Among its alumni are former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood )) Marshall, former Maryland Congressman Parren J. Mitchell and entertainers Cab Calloway and Ethel Ennis.
The building reopened in November 1990 as a privately operated 100-unit apartment complex.
Bill Toohey, a city housing spokesman, said no housing violations were reported as the result of the fire.
As firefighters swept water out of a hallway and coiled their hoses, Betty Jackson stood in the doorway of her apartment, gazing toward the Pages' soot-covered door and shaking her head. "It's horrible," she said.