West Baltimore blaze kills 2 children, injures 2 others 2 other youngsters, 3 adults saved

unused smoke detector found

January 03, 1996|By Peter Hermann and Joe Mathews | Peter Hermann and Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Two children were killed and two others were injured yesterday morning in a fire that burned out a West Baltimore rowhouse, trapping a half-dozen youngsters on the second and third floors as they slept.

Thick smoke poured from windows and doors, initially hampering rescue efforts.

Firefighters pulled some youngsters out of a third-story window and got to others by fighting through flames inside the house in the 500 block of N. Fulton Ave.

Residents gathered across the street and watched the spectacle, counting children as they emerged from the debris, curled in the arms of firefighters and police officers.

"There's two missing," cried neighbor Christina Koromah. "I hope they are not in there."

A half-hour after the 10:15 a.m. blaze erupted, six children and three adults were accounted for. But two boys, ages 2 and 3, died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center from smoke inhalation and burns.

"I alerted people on the first floor and started to go up," said Mustafa Sharif, who was driving by and spotted the fire. "The door to the second floor was locked, so I kicked the door in. But the force of the fire pushed me out the door."

Fire officials said the house had a smoke detector, but that it had not been installed. It was still in its box, tucked away in a closet, hooked up to a battery. A firefighter found it when it sounded its alarm as he was battling the blaze.

"We would really like to get it across to people to install these smoke detectors," said Lt. Thurman Pugh, a Fire Department spokesman. "At least they will have a 50-50 chance to survive. It doesn't make sense to have a smoke detector and not install it."

Six people died in two fires last year in which smoke detectors would have saved lives, fire officials said. In one case, a working detector had been stored in a dresser drawer in a room where two children died.

And Dec. 28, three men died when a fire raced through a wooden bungalow in Aberdeen. A smoke detector was in the house, but the device's battery had been removed and placed in a radio.

Last year, 40 people died in fires in Baltimore, compared with 42 in 1994. Yesterday's fatalities were the first two of 1996.

The two-alarm fire broke out about 10:15 a.m. in a red-brick rowhouse in the 500 block of N. Fulton Ave. Western District Officers Eddie Slacum and Bryant Keith Russell happened by and saw the flames.

"We got up here and one gentleman was holding a child," Officer Slacum said. "We banged on all the doors. We tried to go in, but there was too much smoke."

Firefighters quickly arrived and went into the building, rescuing two children. Two others who were sleeping with their parents in a second-floor bedroom escaped on their own.

The two children who died were sleeping in beds on the third floor. A firefighter found them by reaching through a window while standing on a ladder. Police identified them as Samuel Walker, 2, and Quentin Walker, 3.

The two other children who were rescued by firefighters were identified as Anthony Walker, 9, and Duane Elliot, 7. Both were taken to University of Maryland Medical Center. Duane was in serious condition last night; Anthony was in stable condition.

The mother of some of the children, Laurice Walker, 26, also was taken to the medical center for burns on her hands. Information on her condition was not available.

Lieutenant Pugh said fire investigators believe the cause of the blaze was accidental. The spokesman said the fire might have started in a sofa in a second-floor living room.

Neighbors described the family as quiet, neat and well-dressed. The children who were old enough attended Harriet Tubman Elementary School.

The children rarely ventured outside because it is a high-crime neighborhood, neighbors said. Regina McIntosh, who lives across the street, said the children often could be seen through a window playing video games or basketball.

"The place was very clean, very well kept," said Ms. McIntosh, adding that the mother "always seemed to cook like it was Thanksgiving."

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