A two-alarm fire sent heavy smoke to the second floor of a Northwest Baltimore rowhouse early yesterday, killing a 2-year-old boy, his 6-year-old half-brother and a 32-year-old woman, fire officials said.
The house in the 2600 block of Park Heights Terrace had two smoke detectors, but neither had batteries, said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a spokesman for the Fire Department.
"We have seen this countless times when we respond to fires and have fatalities," Torres said. "In so many cases, there's no working smoke detector in the home."
The fire was reported at 4:38 a.m. and quickly went to two alarms. Investigators yesterday were trying to determine the cause of the fire, which apparently started in the basement, Torres said.
Xuan Mai Huynh, a woman living at the home, and Mihkel Churchill, 2, were pronounced dead at Sinai Hospital a short time after the fire, Torres said.
Tireice Robinson, identified by family members as Mihkel's half-brother, died of smoke inhalation at 9:13 p.m. at University of Maryland Medical Center, said Joan Shnipper, the hospital's director of public relations.
"I feel destroyed; I'd give my life to bring them back," said Thomas Walker, 17, who said he was the boys' cousin and had attempted to enter the smoke-filled building to save the three.
The woman and two boys, and a man, Paul Jackson, were sleeping in the second-floor back bedroom of the house, family members said. Jackson, who identified himself as Mihkel's cousin, was helped from the building by Walker and escaped injury, they said.
After getting Jackson to safety, Walker said he attempted to enter the house for Xuan, Mihkel and Tireice, but was repelled by the heavy smoke.
Two firefighters also were injured. One was bitten on the leg by one of two pit bulls in back yard of the house. He was treated at the scene and returned to fighting the fire. Another was treated at Sinai Hospital for a sprained ankle and a burn on the neck; he was released yesterday, Torres said.
The mother of the two boys lives elsewhere, family members said. She could not be reached yesterday.
Carolyn Jackson, who owns the house but who was staying down the street Sunday night, said she is Tireice's aunt and has custody of the child.
She also lived in the house with Xuan, who she said worked for Amtrak in Wilmington, Del.
"She was my best friend, my baby," Jackson said. "She was my heart."
Jackson was sleeping at another home three doors down, where Thomas Walker lives, when the fire broke out.
The burned home is in the middle of a block of two-story red brick rowhouses with covered porches and small front yards that slope sharply toward the street.
A basement window had its glass blown out, and the bricks around it were stained with soot. In front of the window, the ground was charred black and littered with glass shards. In the front yard was a pile of burned furniture, rugs, compact discs and other items.
Yesterday, neighbors sat on their porches, talking about the fire.
Next door, Antoinette McFadden, 31, said she noticed smoke seeping into her home through an air-conditioning unit.
"I thought it was coming from in here, there was so much smoke," McFadden said.
Judy Evans, 35, another next-door neighbor, said she had just fallen asleep when she smelled smoke.
"I thought, `Who left the food on the stove?'" Evans said. She said she then heard the sound of glass breaking.
Evans and McFadden said that when they went outside, they saw smoke billowing from the house.
Walker said the sound of breaking glass brought him out of the house down the street to find heavy smoke coming from Jackson's house.
When the firefighters arrived, Walker said he kicked in the front and back doors to let them in and told them where they could find Xuan and the children.
"They weren't fast enough," a visibly upset Walker said of the firefighters. "I ain't blaming them, but I feel they could have done something."
Walker said he last saw the two boys earlier Sunday night, when he was baby-sitting them at the home. He was planning to have them spend the night with him, but said the boys had already fallen asleep, and he didn't want to wake them up.
Sun staff writer Allison Klein contributed to this article.