Family that perished in fire had been without electricity Mother, two children died in early-morning blaze in West Baltimore rowhouse

October 07, 1998|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

A mother and two children who perished in a rowhouse fire in West Baltimore early yesterday morning had been living without electricity for nearly three months, authorities said.

Fire officials said late yesterday that they had not determined the cause of the blaze at 315 N. Arlington Ave. that killed Rainey Jefferson, 35, Rannie Kellam, 15, and Brandon Jefferson, 11.

"It's still under investigation," said Fire Inspector Michael Maybin, a department spokesman.

A Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman said the utility had cut service to the rowhouse for nonpayment on July 14, but said no one had contacted the company about having service restored.

"We are saddened, especially since we have programs in place to help customers who are having difficulty paying their bills," said Brenda Pettigrew of BGE.

Neighbors said Jefferson, who moved into the narrow, two-story rowhouse about eight months ago, had tried in vain to get money to pay her electric bill. "She went everywhere to get help," said Dorothy Burton, who lives two doors down from the family. "Where she went, I don't know."

Burton said -- and BGE confirmed -- that Jefferson would not let the utility's workers in to disconnect her gas.

"She said, 'I've got to cook,' " Burton said.

Burton said she called the fire department shortly after 2 a.m., after she and a companion were awakened by the smell of smoke.

"The smoke was overcoming us," she said. "I opened up the window, and I saw fire. I was praying there was no one in there."

Burton said one neighbor threw a cinder block at the door in an attempt to get inside.

"The door fell backwards and flames came out with a roar," she said.

Firefighters arrived three minutes after being dispatched and found the bodies of Jefferson and her daughter on the first floor, officials said. A firefighter found Brandon on the second floor and brought him out of the house. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The house, which had a smoke detector, is owned by Drawbridge LLC and had a market value of $11,400, according to city property records. Efforts to reach representatives of the .. company were unsuccessful.

Yesterday, neighbors placed stuffed animals and a flower on the front steps of the ruined building. They remembered Jefferson as a good mother who suffered from throat cancer and said her children were well-behaved and well-liked.

"They were responsible, good kids," said Vera Tatum, who lives around the corner. "They were real smart. They always went to school."

Brandon was a fifth-grader at James McHenry Elementary School, and Rannie was a sophomore studying cosmetology at Carver Vocational-Technical High School. Both schools made early-morning announcements about the deaths of the students and had counselors available to talk to their schoolmates.

"We observed a moment of silence," said Carver Principal

Michael Plitt, who described Rannie as an "excellent student."

At James McHenry, Principal Helen Resop said many students told counselors they knew of friends, neighbors and relatives who had died the way Brandon had.

On Monday night, a 19-year-old autistic man died of cardiac arrest after resisting firefighters who tried to take him from a burning house in Northeast Baltimore. The cause of that fire, at 737 E. 36th St., is under investigation, officials said.

Pub Date: 10/07/98

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