Four smoke detectors apparently woke Mary Gray from her sleep early yesterday, alerting her to a smoky fire in the downstairs of her Southeast Baltimore rowhouse, fire officials said. But it wasn't soon enough to avert a tragedy.
She shook her husband, Richard Scott Gray, 39, but fire officials said he apparently didn't rouse from slumber. Both evidently passed out in the second-floor bedroom of their home in the 1500 block of Elrino St., officials said.
They were found by firefighters responding to a neighbor's 911 call minutes past 4 a.m. Mr. Gray was pronounced dead on arrival at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. His wife, 48, a cashier at the Eastpoint Metro supermarket, was in critical condition yesterday at the hospital's burn unit.
"We think that she woke up during the fire," said Inspector Michael Maybin, a Fire Department spokesman. "She stayed to try and wake her husband, and they did not make it out."
The fire itself was described as small. It took firefighters 19 minutes to extinguish it. Officials said it apparently began in the living room of the two-story red-brick rowhouse north of Fort Holabird Industrial Park.
Maybin said the house had four working smoke detectors that sounded so loud that some neighbors heard them. He said that even though the fire was small, it filled the small home with intense heat and dense smoke.
Neighbors said the couple moved in about a year ago and were experiencing hard times. Ronald Levine, 55, who lives next door, said Mr. Gray was worried about losing his job at a box factory and wanted to get into sand-blasting.
He said Mr. Gray's brother is in a hospital recovering from a stroke. Mrs. Gray, they said, has partial hearing.
Levine said his wife, Jean, smelled smoke about 4 a.m. and then heard screams. He went to the porch and saw the front window broken and burning embers on the couch. His wife called the Fire Department, and he banged on the front door.
Charles and Cynthia Lowman, who live four doors from the couple, described the victims as helpful neighbors, who mowed lawns for elderly residents and did odd jobs for others.
"They would do anything for you," said Cynthia Lowman, 51. "They are just nice people."
Maybin said investigators have not ruled on a cause, but do not believe it was suspicious.