The blaze that took the life of a 3-year-old Pasadena boy Sunday was started by children playing with matches, and the damage was compounded because smoke detectors failed and the youngster's father didn't take his sons from the house immediately, fire officials said.
Matthew Russo, a triplet, died in the fire, which was confined mostly to the second-floor bedroom of the house in the 600 block of Cyril Ave. It was the county's second fire fatality last year.
Family members said they were upset that the department did not notify them of the official cause but grateful for the outpouring of community support.
Matthew's father, Paul Russo, 27, told fire officials he was awakened shortly after 2 a.m. when he felt his foot burning. He tried to fight the blaze in his second-story bedroom with milk and iced tea from the kitchen before leaving the house with two of the triplets, Brandon and Paul, instead of calling 911, according to J. Gary Sheckells, a Fire Department spokesman.
By the time Russo, relatives and neighbors who tried to help went back upstairs, the smoke and heat in the bedroom were overpowering and they could not get Matthew out, Sheckells said.
"Fires progress very quickly, much more quickly than most people realize," he said. "That's why we never encourage people to attempt to fight a fire. Any time you do fight a fire, you are delaying notification of the Fire Department."
Fire officials said batteries in the smoke detectors on the first and second floors of the house had been disconnected, but family members said the second-floor smoke detector sounded.
"The neighbor across the street heard it," said Paul Russo Sr., the boys' grandfather.
Rescue workers who brought Matthew out of the house were unable to resuscitate him, Sheckells said.
"Our sympathy goes out to the family," he said. "We're hoping that others can be reminded of some very simple things we can do in advance to hopefully avoid another tragedy."
Family members said their burden has been lightened a little by the community support.
In the two days after the blaze, Russo and his wife, Lee, who are expecting a baby girl in February, have been given all of the furniture, clothes, and accessories they need.
Some people have offered to throw additional baby showers for the couple.
"There are really some wonderful people who've come together," Lee Russo said, sitting a few yards from a room at her father-in-law's house crowded with bags of clothing, bandages and vacuum cleaners donated by strangers.
"There are really no words to say what everyone has done for us in a tragedy like this," she said.
The family still needs money to help pay for Matthew's funeral, and for personal items and incidentals.
Lee Russo and her husband, who suffered burns on his legs and arms, are unemployed. They are staying with his father but soon will need to find housing. Fire and water destroyed the house, said Kevin Day, Russo's brother-in-law.
Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Glen Burnie has set up an account for the family at the Bank of Glen Burnie.
Donations to the Matthew Russo Memorial Fund may be made at any bank branch or at the church.
Funeral services for Matthew will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Stallings Funeral Home on Mountain Road in Pasadena.
Pub Date: 01/02/97