Girl, 7, dies in house fire on west side City firefighter finds child in room where she tried to hide

'The flames were too high'

3 others, including a police officer, suffer injuries

November 28, 1997|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

A 7-year-old Madison Park girl trapped on the second floor of a burning building yesterday died in the single-alarm blaze that left her family with four other children homeless.

Randi McDonald of the 500 block of McMechen St. in West Baltimore was found in a rear bedroom of the three-story brick building where she lived with her grandmother, aunt, brothers and cousins.

"She tried to hide from the fire," said fire Capt. Stephan Fugate. "[A firefighter] picked her up, laid her on the bed to begin CPR, but you could tell she was dead."

Neighbors and firefighters had tried to save Randi from the fire that engulfed two floors shortly before 11 a.m. One man borrowed a ladder to reach a porch roof.

Family members cried as they stood among a large crowd gathered on a parking lot beside the rowhouse. A young boy being held by Randi's grandmother repeatedly screamed, "I want my sister! I want my sister!"

"I just can't believe she's gone just like that, on Thanksgiving of all the days of the year," said Tammy Lee, a neighbor whose daughter India played with Randi.

Also injured was Jerry Hill, 4, Randi's cousin. He hit his head on the ground when a neighbor rescued him from a porch roof and threw him into another neighbor's arms. He was in stable condition at University of Maryland Medical Center.

Charles Ham, 14, a family member, and Western District Officer John Jackson suffered smoke inhalation. Both were treated at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. The teen-ager was in serious condition, and Jackson was released.

Investigators have not determined the cause of the fire, but officials said they believed it started on the first floor. So far this year, 21 people have died in fires, compared with 22 fatalities in all of last year.

Clarence Paul, a neighbor, said he was walking to a friend's house when he saw the girl at a second-floor window, screaming for help.

A Bell Atlantic crewman lent Paul a ladder. He climbed to the porch roof, and tried to kick out the window, but couldn't.

"When the smoke got so dark, she must've ran," he said. "We tried everything we could, even going through the front door, but the flames were too high."

Police arrived soon afterward and also were unsuccessful in rescue attempts.

Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a Fire Department spokesman, said family members were on the second and third floors when they heard smoke detectors sounding on the first floor. Most of the family escaped through a rear first-floor door, but some went through the second-floor front window and onto the porch roof, Torres said. That's where a neighbor rescued the 4-year-old.

Some neighbors complained that firefighters took too long to get to the house. But Torres said the first call came into the emergency dispatch center at 10:48 a.m. and rescue crews arrived a minute later.

Firefighters from Engine Company 13, two blocks away, said neighbors were pounding on the door of the fire station when the call came in.

"Everybody was pretty caught up in trying to assist," Torres said. "People fail to call the fire department. The call is not made as soon as it can be."

When firefighters arrived, family members directed them to the front room where they believed Randi had been. But rescue workers could not find her there, according to Fugate.

Rescuers continued the search in a rear bedroom where a firefighter saw the girl on the floor in a small space between a bed and the wall, Fugate said.

Lee, the neighbor, said Randi was a second-grader at Eutaw Marshburn Elementary School, about a block from her home. The girl, whose mother died a few years ago, had lived at the McMechen Street home for about four years.

"She was a sweet child that loved life itself," Lee said.

Larry Little of the city Department of Housing and Community Development said the family would spend the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend at an area motel, and the central neighborhood service center will provide them with food. The department will try to relocate them by Tuesday, Little said.

He said anyone who wishes to donate food, money or clothing to the family should contact the service center at 1901 Pennsylvania Ave., or call 410-545-3713.

Pub Date: 11/28/97

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