Thick, choking smoke from an apartment fire at a North Baltimore seniors high-rise complex yesterday left one person dead and 13 injured and drove dozens of other elderly people out of their homes and into chilly weather, authorities said.
The three-alarm fire was reported about 11:30 a.m. at the Lakeview Towers, a twin-tower complex at 717 and 727 Druid Park Lake Drive, across from Druid Lake.
The injured were taken to four hospitals for burns and smoke inhalation, Fire Department spokesman Mike Maybin said.
One person died at Maryland General Hospital, police said.
More than a dozen people, many in pajamas, needed to be rescued - some from their balconies by Fire Department crews.
Others were led or carried down stairwells by firefighters.
Some residents said the building had no sprinkler system, and many said they did not hear a smoke alarm before smelling smoke and realizing there was a fire in the building.
Fire officials could not immediately confirm whether there is a sprinkler system or if smoke alarms were working.
Four firefighters arrived before needed equipment, but felt it too crucial to wait. They used water from a garden hose to enter the building.
"Our engine company was there right away, and we didn't have all of our equipment, but you could see smoke and flames and people hanging out on their balconies yelling," said firefighter Sam Darby.
"We asked the apartment maintenance guy if the garden hose works. He said yeah, and we grabbed it and went in," Darby said.
Darby said his partners were making their way to the third floor, where the blaze started, when dozens of other firefighters began arriving.
'A lot of rescue'
Darby emerged from the building covered in soot and carrying his charred helmet with the plastic visor melted by the fire's heat. Having the garden hose might have allowed firefighters to save lives, he said.
"There were a lot of rescues made here today, I know that," Darby said. "Some people were pretty bad and unconscious. Others were semiconscious but didn't even know they were being pulled out."
The fire sent smoke throughout the 727 building.
The lobby of the 717 building was used as a triage center and a warm spot for residents forced into the 30-degree weather.
Residents were given blankets, and some sat in warm buses brought to the site.
The Red Cross was trying to find shelter for those who will be unable to return to their homes until repairs are made.
Combined, the two towers, owned by the city housing authority, contain 300 apartments and had few vacancies, officials said.
The cause of the blaze was under investigation, and a damage estimate had not been made.
An autopsy was pending in the fatality. That person's name was not immediately released.