Grandmother, 2 toddlers die in fire

March 11, 1995|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

Two toddlers and their grandmother died yesterday when fire swept through their East Baltimore rowhouse, trapping them in a second-floor bedroom as horrified neighbors watched helplessly from the sidewalk.

Firefighters rescued two other boys -- a 6-year-old and a 5-month-old -- who were critically injured while trapped in a back bedroom of the narrow two-story brick rowhouse. Two men -- including the father of the two dead children -- who had been sleeping in the basement escaped unharmed.

But fire officials -- who yesterday morning announced a program to give away thousands of free smoke detectors -- said more lives might have been saved if the rowhouse in the 400 block of N. Port St. had had one of the devices.

"We were told that they were all asleep at the time of the fire. I

think they would have escaped had they had one," said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a Fire Department spokesman, adding that a smoke detector is the best warning for a fire.

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City said yesterday that it had given a smoke detector to residents of the house in 1991 because the family was referred to the agency as a hardship case. But fire investigators said they found no smoke detector in the house yesterday.

One of the men in the basement awoke to the smell of smoke at about 11 a.m., the chief said. "He was very fortunate. Smoke usually puts you in a deeper sleep or coma."

Pronounced dead at the scene were Ernestine Burrough, 44, and her grandchildren, Chevell Burrough, 2, and Lamont Burrough Jr., 1.

Robert Jones, 6, and 5-month-old Terrell Howard, who suffered smoke inhalation and burns on 30 percent of their bodies, were listed in critical condition at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Neighborhood residents described a chaotic scene, as Lamont Burrough Sr., the father of the two dead children, tried to get back inside the burning house by kicking in the front door, and was pushed back by dense smoke.

Eraina Stokes, who lives several doors from the fire-ravaged rowhouse, said she watched as the grandmother broke the upstairs window while trying to escape the flames.

"Smoke just billowed out," Ms. Stokes said.

"She was screaming and we were screaming, but we just couldn't do anything. It's just so sad. There was nothing we could have done for them."

Firefighters rescued Robert and Terrell from a second-floor bedroom, Chief Torres said.

They were treated for 45 minutes in the Maryland Shock Trauma Center's Hyperbaric Chamber, where they receive high doses of oxygen to cleanse the blood. "They are responding well to treatment," said Chuck Jackson, a trauma center spokesman.

Yesterday afternoon, the boys were transferred to the pediatric unit at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Chief Torres said the fire began in the basement, where combustible items had been placed too close to a furnace. The items might have been boxes or clothes, but investigators said they could not be more specific.

The chief said "the fire quickly traveled through and engulfed the house," burning out the interiorand causing at least $50,000 in damage.

Fire officials said they were unable to immediately determine the identity of the other man who had been sleeping in the basement. Grief-stricken family members who gathered at the scene would not comment to reporters as they watched firefighters comb through the debris and begin the grim task of removing the bodies.

The family members huddled in a small circle on a stoop across the street, comforting one another, several weeping.

The deaths bring the number of fire fatalities in Baltimore this year to 15, compared with 27 at the corresponding time in 1994, when two fires on the west side claimed a total of 16 lives.

Firefighters routinely canvass neighborhoods after fatal fires, handing out fire-prevention literature and explaining the department's smoke detector giveaway program. They plan to be in the Port Street neighborhood at 9:30 this morning.

The city last year began giving out free smoke detectors to any household requesting one. Residents can simply go their local fire station, which will send a firefighter to the house and install it for free.

So far, firefighters have installed 6,000 free smoke detectors. Anyone who can afford to do so is encouraged to pay $6 for the device, enabling the city to buy more detectors.

Yesterday, just a half-hour after the deadly fire started, officials announced an expansion of the program. Residents can now obtain more than one free smoke detector, so the warning devices can be placed on each floor of a home.

WMAR-TV and Home Depot donated 4,000 detectors for the city's program, called "2 Save a Life Campaign." Officials also announced a $132,000 grant for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the give-away project.

News of the three fire deaths marred the Fire Department's announcement yesterday, Chief Torres said, but also served as a tragic reminder about the importance of installing smoke detectors. "These are needed in this city," he said.

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