A month-old infant died in a Brooklyn house fire yesterday, trapped by flames in an upstairs bedroom where the father was critically burned in a frantic rescue attempt, Baltimore fire officials said.
The baby, Nicholas Jackson, who weighed just 3 pounds at his premature birth Feb. 24, was found dead in the front bedroom of the two-story house in the 3800 block of Second Street.
The father, 28-year-old Allen Scott Jackson, climbed out the window to a lower roof and jumped to the ground. He was sitting on a curb, burned over nearly his entire body, when firefighters arrived just after 2 p.m., said Capt. Ernest Johnson of the Fire Department's Fire Investigation Bureau.
Mr. Jackson was in critical condition last night at the Francis Scott Key Medical Center, suffering from second- and third-degree burns over 90 percent of his body, authorities said.
Two city undercover police officers driving through the South Baltimore neighborhood saw smoke and arrived in time to help the infant's mother, Michelle Wellman, and her four other young children -- ages 19 months to 5 years -- out of the house through a back door.
Friends of the family, removing furnishings from the house in late afternoon, complained afterward that the Southern District undercover officers had been watching the house to harass Mr. Jackson in connection with an investigation into drug trafficking. They said that the house had been raided twice by police in recent months, but that no drugs had been found.
Authorities confirmed that the house had been raided at least twice last September as part of a cooperative investigation by the city and Anne Arundel County police departments. The first raid turned up drug paraphernalia and suspected drug residue, police said, and the second one turned up a large quantity of construction material, appliances and furnishings believed to have been stolen goods.
Mr. Jackson and two other Brooklyn men were charged with theft as a result of the raid, in which police inventoried four ovens, three refrigerators, a microwave oven, 35 boxes of kitchen cabinets, more than a dozen patio doors, a half-dozen interior doors and windows of various sizes, lumber and concrete blocks.
Neighbors, who asked not to be identified, expressed hope that the fire would put an end to what they perceived as a center of drug trafficking and thefts -- but sorrow that "a baby had to die" to drive the family out of their community.
A city police officer who regularly patrols the neighborhood said he was not surprised by the community reaction to the fire, recalling the September raids.
One family friend carrying goods from the house denied allegations that it had been used for drug trafficking. He said the critically burned Mr. Jackson had been self-employed, selling sno-balls and snacks from one of the two trucks parked in the yard before undergoing surgery a year ago.
Undercover Southern District Officer Ron Kessler, who was on patrol with fellow vice Officer Michael Cichowicz when they spotted the fire, denied they had been conducting surveillance on the house. He said that they had been assigned to prostitution enforcement on nearby Patapsco Avenue and that they had just been driving by at the time.
"We picked up the kids and took them out, and grabbed the mother by the arm and took her out," Officer Kessler said. "The smoke was so thick and the flames coming out -- there was no way to get up there," he said of the infant still upstairs.
The police and neighbors said Ms. Wellman cried out for her baby, but there was nothing anyone could do to save the infant.
Captain Johnson, the fire investigator, said that the cause of the blaze remained uncertain and that his investigation was continuing.
Thirty firefighters, using 10 pieces of equipment, brought the blaze under control in 15 minutes. Damage to the house was estimated at $12,000.
Fire officials said Mr. Jackson had recently purchased the property from his mother.