A Southwest Baltimore neighborhood is rallying to help eight families whose homes were heavily damaged Sunday by a fire apparently set by children.
The blaze began in a vacant rowhouse in the 1900 block of Christian St. and spread to the roofs of 16 other houses on the block. Fire officials said the blaze moved quickly because the houses do not have fire stops.
Some of the houses received relatively mild smoke damage and others were so heavily damaged that several families were left homeless. A few families are still living in some of the badly damaged homes while they look for new housing.
The families are being aided by the 6th District Community Service Office, a volunteer group headed by Wayne L. Sherman. The organization has collected food and clothing from area residents and businesses and distributed it.
Last night, Mr. Sherman scheduled a cookout for the residents of the block. Mr. Sherman said food was donated by Schmidt's Baking Co., Murry's Steaks and the Barcelona Nut Co. The cookout was planned to bring the residents together so they can work out a plan to pool their time and resources, he added.
One of the damaged houses is at 1911 Christian St. It was the residence of Kathleen Thompson, her husband, Dennis, and their two children. They were left homeless by the fire and now are living just a few doors away with Mrs. Thompson's mother, whose home sustained minor smoke damage.
Yesterday, Mrs. Thompson returned to her home and surveyed the damage. She said the family lost all of its clothes and many treasured possessions including a new stereo, and new beds that had recently been purchased for the two children.
She said the family learned of the fire when a neighbor knocked on the door. The family fled to the street as the house filled with smoke.
Mrs. Thompson blamed the fire on the city's failure to secure the vacant house where the fire began. She said she and other neighborhood residents complained to police and city officials but no action was taken to board up the house.
Mrs. Thompson said she was concerned because the house had been vacant for about four months, and she often heard people going in and out of it.
Elizabeth Blizard, who lives at 1926 Christian St., across from the vacant house, said she had been worried that someone would set fire to the house. She said she called police to complain about activity the day before the fire.
"I said, 'What happens if they set this place on fire? The whole block is gonna blow up.' And that's what happened the next day," Ms. Blizard, recalled. "They [the police] just told me to call the Housing Authority and I said they're not open on the weekends".
The residents said the fire was set by two children, ages 6 and 9 yearsold.
As Mrs. Thompson walked through her home, she lamented the loss of her family's possessions and the damage to the dwelling.
"The whole roof is burned out and the first floor is flooded with water," she said.
Anyone interested in assisting the residents of the block can call the 6th District Community Service Office at 646-4271.