Probe continues of Dundalk house fire that killed five people

Woman used stove for heat because furnace not working, relatives say

October 01, 2001|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Judy Delcid spent the weekend collecting some of her belongings after a fire raged through her next-door neighbor's home Friday night, killing a woman and four of her children.

Delcid, 38, and two of her children, ages 19 and 9, were left without a home because firefighters tore through many of her windows and walls while extinguishing the two-alarm blaze that burned for more than an hour in the adjoining duplex.

Michele Ferguson, 38, and her daughters Ina Johnson, 11; India Johnson, 9; Asia Jones, 2; and Ariel Jones, 1, died from the fire that consumed the rear portion of the family's duplex in the 6800 block of Dunbar Road.

Colorful stuffed animals lined the front porch and someone draped a cord with a cross attached over the mailbox at the white two-story house during the weekend. The front of the residence looked almost normal yesterday, but the plywood-covered windows hint at the charred remains of the back of the residence, where the fire burned most intensely.

Capt. Glenn Blackwell of the Baltimore County Fire Department said fire investigators hope to pinpoint the origin of the blaze -- as well as each person's cause of death -- early this week.

Ferguson's relatives said she had been using the kitchen stove to heat the home because her furnace was unfit for use.

Blackwell said the heaviest fire damage was in the kitchen, and fire officials believe it might have started there.

John Olszewski Sr., county councilman for the 7th District, which includes Dundalk, called the fire "a real tragedy," and said he was particularly troubled by reports that the family had been using the kitchen stove to heat the home. "Renters should have the same amenities available to everybody else, and it's just a shame that anyone would have to heat their home with a stove," he said.

Olszewski said he will investigate the claim by Ferguson's relatives that her landlord had not responded to requests to repair the furnace. The owner of the property, Edmund Ogonowski Sr., said Saturday that he was unaware of heating or maintenance problems at the house.

Delcid, who has lived on Dunbar Road for more than 10 years, said she didn't know her neighbors very well -- something she said she regrets.

"I just didn't know about her situation at all," she said, referring to reports about Ferguson's furnace problems. "I feel like I should have had more communication with her. I could have given her a heater or something."

Delcid grew teary and her voice faded to a whisper as she continued to wonder aloud what she could have done for the family.

She stopped by her duplex yesterday afternoon to make phone calls and pack more clothing to bring to a neighbor's house, where she and her children are staying.

Even the constant breeze blowing through Delcid's gaping windows could not lessen the campfire-like smell permeating the home. Delcid's eyes filled again as she looked around at her disheveled furniture and decorations. Soot outlines the top of the walls in her kitchen and dining area, and her maroon kitchen tile is black.

Delcid said her insurance company said it is unlikely that she'll be able to move back in.

"You hear about this happening to other people," she said, "but when it's right next door, it's like you're in a state of shock."

Ferguson's relatives said they have not made funeral arrangements. "We're going to make some calls maybe Tuesday," said Carol Ferguson, mother of Michele Ferguson. "Right now, we need time to grieve."

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