Two children and a woman died this morning when fire raced through their rowhouse near Lynch Cove in Dundalk, trapping them in second-floor rooms. Five other residents escaped and were taken to area hospitals.
Baltimore County fire investigators were busy sifting through the charred remains of the end house in the 2000 block of Frames Road, near Wise Avenue. A department spokesman said a cause was not immediately apparent.
"From looks of the house, you can see there was fire coming out from all directions," said Battalion Chief Patrick T. Kelly, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Fire Department.
"The one woman who was sleeping downstairs awoke to a lot of smoke, saw some flames and got out as fast as she could," Chief Kelly said. "The house was engulfed at that point. The victims didn't have a whole lot of chance of getting out."
Stunned neighbors, many dressed in shorts and T-shirts and clutching morning coffee cups, gathered on lawns and on the street as they watched the scene unfold. Children clung to each other in tears, trying to comprehend.
"We just played tag yesterday," sobbed 10-year-old Erika Gittings, who knew one of the victims. "And now she's dead."
Names of the victims were not available this morning. Chief Kelly said investigators were trying to sort through a confusing array of relationships. Two families apparently shared the rowhouse, as well as cousins and grandparents.
Pronounced dead on the scene was an 8-year-old boy, a 4-year-old girl and a woman in her 50s. Chief Kelly said the two children were not related and the woman was not the mother of either dead child.
The three victims were badly burned, officials said. The spokesman said a woman and a child were found in a front bathroom. Another child, who Chief Kelly said apparently was trying to escape, was found in a second-floor bedroom window.
The other occupants, two adults and three children, escaped on their own. Chief Kelly said they were taken to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center for observation. One woman suffered burns, but officials said none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening. A neighbor who helped some of the victims suffered chest pains and also was taken to Bayview.
The fire, which broke out shortly before 6 a.m., was under control about 30 minutes later. More than 50 firefighters from stations at Wise Avenue, Dundalk, Eastview and North Point-Edgemere responded to the scene.
Chief Kelly said two smoke detectors were found in the house, but fire investigators were not sure if they were working. A damage estimate was not available. The roof of an adjoining rowhouse was slightly damaged.
Witnesses of the two-alarm fire reported a hectic scene.
"One lady was really badly burned," said Denise Taylor, 36, who lives across the street from the back of the rowhouse. "She was screaming, trying to tell everybody to help her kids."
Another neighbor, Julius Sandlin, 25, said he walked out his front door and saw "flames shooting out all over the place. There were flames coming out the back, the front and the side."
Mr. Sandlin's two sons, 4 and 6, play with the victims. He described the children as typical. "They were just neighborhood kids, you know how they are. They would run through the yards."
Amy Engleman, 19, helped get blankets for the occupants who escaped. Today is her daughter Brittany's second birthday, and the two dead children had been invited to the celebration.
"She's 2. She doesn't even know what's going on," Ms. Engleman said. "They were supposed to go to a party today, and now this."
While fire investigators had not determined a cause this morning, they were checking up on reports from Joseph Markiewcz, 34, that one of the victims was seen by other children playing with matches yesterday.
"I don't know if that's how it started or what," said Mr. Markiewcz, whose 4-year-old son, Joseph Markiewcz Jr., played with the victims. "It was one of the same ones who died who had the matches. It's a tragedy. I'm not saying the boy lit the house, but this is what happens when you play with fire."