Arson focus of fire probe Blaze killed 5, including 3 children, in Northwest Baltimore

Accident ruled out

Police say they have no suspects, know of no motive

January 17, 1998|By Jamie Smith | Jamie Smith,SUN STAFF

The fire Wednesday in Northwest Baltimore that claimed the lives of five people -- three of them children -- is being investigated by city police as a possible arson.

Fire officials classified the fire yesterday as incendiary, which means it was intentionally set. If the fire is ruled arson, the five deaths caused by it would become homicides.

Officials ruled out as a possible cause the jury-rigged electrical and gas service in the Norwood Avenue house, where the power was cut off in July at the request of a family member.

"Any possible accidental causes have been eliminated," said Agent Ragina L. Cooper, a police spokeswoman.

Cooper said police know of no motive and have no suspects.

A Fire Department spokesman said the fire started on the first floor of the 1 1/2 -story house in the 5200 block but that he could not provide more information about the cause until police finish their investigation.

"Until that is concluded, there's really not a whole lot we can comment on," said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, the spokesman.

Homicide Detective Albert Marcus referred questions about the fire's cause to police fire investigators, who were not available for comment. Three homicide detectives were at the scene of the fire Wednesday, which Marcus said that is typical when there are fatalities.

The day of the fire, investigators examined evidence that included charred floorboards, sections of a wooden staircase and a kerosene lantern.

Relatives of the fire victims could not be reached yesterday. The five who died in the fire, 37-year-old Francine Roy, her children -- ages 23 months, 3 and 4 -- and her 20-year-old niece, were among 10 people living in the Norwood Avenue house.

The others were able to escape, and some -- assisted by neighbor John Harris, 34 -- attempted to rescue the trapped women and children.

"We kicked the front door in, but the flames shut us out," Harris said Wednesday. "The fire swept through there [in] no more than four minutes. It was terrible. Once the flames engulfed the house, we knew there was no way they were going to make it out."

As officials were concluding their investigation yesterday, firefighters installed smoke detectors in homes near the site of the blaze.

Pub Date: 1/17/98

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