Candle causes fire at rowhouse 9 die

February 28, 1994|By Joan Jacobson and Peter Hermann | Joan Jacobson and Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writers

A story in yesterday's editions reported incorrectly the name of Tyler Edwards, 11, one of nine people killed in a West Baltimore house fire. Also, a 2-year-old boy was saved from the fire, not a girl.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Seven children and two adults died in a rowhouse fire in West Baltimore Saturday night when a candle used as the only source of light set the house ablaze, causing one of the deadliest fires in the city's history, authorities said.

Three others survived the blaze, including a 2-year-old girl who was thrown to safety by her mother from a second-floor window shortly before midnight. The mother also survived after jumping to the pavement below.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The fire broke out at 2035 Hollins St. -- 20 blocks from a fatal fire last month that killed seven members of another West Baltimore family. The Jan. 9 fire in the 600 block of Edgewood St. was started when clothing left over a heating grate in the floor ignited.

Fire officials said Saturday's fire started on the first floor when a candle was either knocked over or placed too close to combustible items. The fire raced up the staircase of the narrow two-story rowhouse, engulfing it in flames.

Fire officials believe the cause of death for all nine victims was smoke inhalation. Autopsies are scheduled for today.

Thick smoke enveloped Hollins Street, making it difficult for firefighters to find the burning house.

"Visibility was zero," said Acting Battalion Chief Carey Woodlon, among the first firefighters on the scene from Engine Company 14, two blocks away. "In fact, I had to stop my car on the corner and walk down to see which house was on fire."

The children who died ranged in age from 8 months to 11 years, according to Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a Fire Department spokesman. He said the house had no smoke detectors.

The rented home had been without electricity since October because the tenants failed to pay $1,600 in utility bills, according to a spokesman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

In the first two months of this year, 25 people have died in Baltimore fires, compared with one at this time last year. Thirty-four people died in fires in all of 1993.

"I am greatly concerned because of the fact that we've had two multiple-death fires in which we lost the lives of 16 people," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who visited the fire scene about 1:30 a.m. In his statement, he said, "I recognize that this has been a very cold winter, but we simply have to continue to emphasize the fact that we need to exercise caution to prevent these needless deaths."

Firefighters said they are particularly frustrated because just two weeks ago they went on "a blitz" to encourage people to install smoke detectors and regularly check them to ensure they work.

At noon today, firefighters will canvass the neighborhood in another campaign, which they routinely do after fatal fires.

"The idea that 'it is not going to happen to us' just permeates portions of the community," said Shift Commander Joseph R. Dillon, who oversees battalion chiefs. "Firefighters see so much during the course of their career. It is tough because they feel that every effort they made was in vain.

"This station right here might have this type of fire three times a week, four times a week. Maybe on a busy night, three in one night," Commander Dillon said while standing in the bay of Engine Company 14.

"The tragedy is that you wind up with nine people dead over something you made every effort in the world to contain. That's the frustrating thing about the job."

2nd deadliest in 45 years

Saturday's fire was the city's second deadliest blaze in at least 45 years. In May 1982, 10 people, including seven children, perished in a two-alarm rowhouse fire near Clifton Park in the 2700 block of Tivoly Ave. At the time, city fire officials said it was the deadliest fire they could recall since at least 1947.

In Saturday night's blaze, neighbors said they heard a boy shouting for help from the street shortly before midnight when the fire broke out.

Chief Torres, who called the fire a "major catastrophe," said the department received the first 911 call at 11:41 p.m., about the same time several neighbors pounded on the door to Engine Company 14 to alert the firefighters inside.

George Polk, 25, said he was in his living room, about to go to bed, when he heard glass breaking across the street. From his window, he said, he saw teen-agers rush from the corner of Hollins and Pulaski streets to the burning house to catch the falling infant.

"When it happened, it was quick," Mr. Polk said. "Everybody tried to help out. But it was sudden and the flames were so bad that you couldn't do anything at all. Even I tried to make an attempt."

The one-alarm fire, which caused an estimated $48,000 in damage, was extinguished minutes past midnight, but by the time firefighters could get into the home, the nine people trapped were already dead.

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