Six homeless after fire at Little Italy rowhouse

Four asleep in rowhouse awakened in time to flee

January 02, 2000|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

A Little Italy rowhouse at the center of dispute two years ago sustained about $50,000 in damage yesterday in an early morning fire.

No one was injured in the blaze, which was caused by unattended incense burning on the third floor, according to the Baltimore fire department, which responded to the alarm at 5: 22 a.m.

The house, at 227 S. High St., was rehabilitated into four apartments in 1998 after former Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III pledged $250,000 in city funds for renovations to it and a house on Fawn Street.

At the time of the renovations, a man associated with both houses was an aide to Henson, raising questions about whether his involvement constituted a conflict of interest.

More questions arose when it was discovered that Henson's agency allowed work to begin four weeks before approval was granted by the Board of Estimates and 10 weeks before loan papers and documents securing the housing department's interest in the houses were signed. No action was taken in the case.

None of that mattered yesterday to Giovanna Aquia Blatterman, 52, who owns the building at 227 S. High St. with her mother, Rosa Aquia, 74. Both women also live there.

"It's a happy new year," Blatterman said yesterday, standing outside the charred remains of her home in near-freezing temperatures. "What could you ask but for the most precious thing, and that's life?"

Blatterman wasn't at home when the fire started about 5: 20 a.m. But her mother, her brother, Sam Aquia, and tenant Lou Boeri were inside sleeping.

They were awakened by a man who works at Chiapparelli's restaurant on High Street after he noticed flames coming from the roof, she said.

The fire displaced six people. Yesterday, as Blatterman watched city crews use a bulldozer to put charred debris in a dump truck, she talked about her gratitude that no one was hurt.

Several neighbors and business owners hugged Blatterman yesterday, offering assistance. Among them was Joseph Scalia, 72.

"I live a half-block away, and I went to sleep around 3 a.m.," said Scalia, a Little Italy resident for 50 years who has known Blatterman for 45 years. "I didn't realize the gravity of the situation."

Nick Chiapparelli said he realized the seriousness immediately. His home on nearby Albermarle Street was damaged by fire two months ago. When he heard sirens wailing, he panicked.

"I thought it was me again," said Chiapparelli, who invited Blatterman and her family into his restaurant yesterday for coffee and warmth.

Blatterman said she will repair the house, which was insured. In the meantime, everyone has somewhere to go, she said.

"This is a very close-knit neighborhood, and everybody takes care of everybody here," she said. "We have many, many friends and relatives."

Blatterman even managed a little humor when talking about her mother's 75th birthday on Jan. 6.

"That'll be a happy celebration," Blatterman said. "Of course, I don't think we want to have candles on the cake."

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