Man dies in 3-alarm fire above Baltimore restaurant

January 08, 1994|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Staff Writer Staff writer Shanon D. Murray contributed to this article.

A three-alarm fire swept through apartments above the China House Restaurant in the 1300 block of N. Charles St. yesterday afternoon, killing a 44-year-old man and leaving 10 people homeless.

Careless smoking sparked the blaze in a second-floor apartment. The fire spread to other units, causing an estimated $150,000 worth of damage to the building and $75,000 to the contents, said Battalion Chief Hector Torres, Fire Department spokesman. The fire caused minor damage to an adjacent building.

Several residents were alerted by the smell of smoke and someone yelling, "Fire," said Jennie Chen, owner of the China House. Except for the 44-year-old victim, everyone safely left the building by the front door and back fire escape, she added.

"He [the victim] could have been napping or something," Chief Torres said. "It was a pretty long while before the fire was detected, which explains the high volume of the fire."

The victim's identity was not released because his family had not been notified,

Dozens of spectators stood in the rain and cold, watching as firefighters battled the blaze and smoke billowed from the building. Traffic was rerouted for hours while the entire 1300 block of N. Charles St. was closed during the fire and later, as debris was removed from the street.

It took about 100 firefighters and 35 pieces of equipment to bring the fire under control at 1:31 p.m., Chief Torres said. The first alarm was sounded at 12:22 p.m., the second at 12:28 p.m. and the third at 12:32 p.m.

While firefighters fought the blaze, residents waited patiently in the Loyola Banking Center across the street, only to learn that everything they owned was destroyed.

"I sent the chef upstairs for something, and he hollered fire," said Ms. Chen, 72, who also owns the apartments above her restaurant and rents them at $200 per month to 10 men. She was downstairs preparing the restaurant for lunch when the fire broke out. Holding her head and shaking it slowly in disbelief, she said she saw "flames everywhere."

Despite the extent of the fire, most of the restaurant -- started in 1928 by Ms. Chen's late husband -- was intact. Firefighters recovered a cash register and bags of change, she said.

Some of the tenants said they did not know where they would go for shelter. A couple said they would visit friends, and others were hoping the Red Cross would be able to house them for the next few days.

Vrillo Brown, one of the residents, was "open to suggestions" for new living quarters.

"I was in bed sleeping when I smelled the smoke and ran down the steps to the third floor," said Mr. Brown, 45. "Then I ran upstairs and woke up my roommate. I don't know where I'm going to live now."

Neither did Andreas Sampson, who was upstairs sleeping. He climbed out the fire escape.

"Five years ago, the last place I lived had a fire and I had nothing," said Mr. Sampson, 52, who has been living above the restaurant for the past four years. "It's happened again, and again I have nothing. I lost everything."

In another fire yesterday, seven people escaped injury from a blaze in East Baltimore that took firefighters more than one hour to douse.

The two-alarm fire destroyed a rowhouse in the 1700 block of N. Castle St. and caused smoke and structural damage to three neighboring homes.

Battalion Chief Lawrence Pully attributed the fire to children playing with matches. He estimated damage at $150,000.

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