2 children and their grandmother perish in fire

April 09, 1993|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

Two children and their grandmother died yesterday in a one-alarm fire that raged through an East Baltimore rowhouse, authorities said.

Investigators said the blaze was accidental, caused when a cigarette or other smoking material set fire to a sofa on the first floor, according to Capt. Hector Torres, a fire department spokesman.

Five firefighters suffered minor injuries.

The blaze began about 3:45 p.m. in the 1100 block of N. Milton Ave. while dozens of people were out enjoying the sunny weather, only to be interrupted by screams of someone yelling "Fire!" residents said.

Devon Scott, 4, and his sister, Dominic Scott, 3, were pronounced dead on arrival at Johns Hopkins Hospital, victims of severe burns and smoke inhalation, Captain Torres said.

Their grandmother, Sara Grissitt, 45, died at 9 p.m. from severe burns and possible cardiac arrest at the same hospital, said Captain Torres.

"The fire was raging pretty much out of control when we arrived," he said.

"We don't know if [the victims] were trapped upstairs or were just overcome quickly by the smoke and the fire."

LeVance Ray, who lives nearby, said residents made desperate attempts to kick down the front door that had become stuck.

One potential rescuer had to be treated for smoke inhalation, officials said.

"I saw [the children's mother] out walking her baby on the street and I told her, 'Melissa, your house is on fire,' " said Mr. Ray, 18. "She said, 'It is?' and she ran up the street yelling, 'My children! My children!' "

Mr. Ray said the children's mother, whose last name wasn't available, also tried to kick in the front door without success.

Another witness, Ralph Flowers, 19, said, "It was awful. It was a life-and-death situation, and the door was stuck and we were waiting for the fire trucks. And nobody could do anything but watch the flames shoot out."

When firefighters arrived several minutes later, flames were coming out the front and back windows of the two-story stone house, forcing rescue workers to attempt a daring rescue by climbing in through a second-floor window.

Among those firefighters were Paul DeSimone and Martin Loftus of Truck No. 5, at Harford Avenue and Oliver Street.

Firefighter DeSimone said he climbed a ladder and went through the window wearing an oxygen mask.

Moments later, in a fiery upstairs room, he found the grandmother but he couldn't lift her to carry her to safety.

"I couldn't get her up because her skin kept peeling off. It was pretty bad," he said.

Firefighter Loftus went into the building without an oxygen mask to help him carry her out, he said.

Firefighter Loftus, later wearing an oxygen mask, sat looking at the damage left by the fire.

He was one of five firefighters injured during the rescue.

Four were taken to Mercy Medical Center for treatment of minor injuries and one to University of Maryland Medical Center with heat exhaustion.

Captain Torres said that it is not unusual to have firefighters injured in a desperate rescue attempt.

"The adrenalin gets pumping and there are aggressive attempts made to save lives," he said.

"When you've got that going on, you can expect there will be some injuries to the firefighters."

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