Building lacked sprinkler system

Devices not required because of high-rise's age

Resident died from injuries

City discussed installation but has no plans to add

January 18, 2003|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

The city-owned apartment building where a fire claimed the life of a 56-year-old woman and injured 13 people Thursday morning did not have a sprinkler system, which is required in high-rise housing complexes.

But because the Lakeview Towers building at 727 Druid Park Lake Drive, across from Druid Lake, was built in 1970, before a code that requires sprinklers in each apartment took effect, it was exempted from the new rules and never updated with the added fire prevention.

Fire officials said the blaze started in the third-floor apartment of Tuyla Warren, who died after being taken to Maryland General Hospital.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Saturday's editions misspelled the name of Twylia Wearren, who died Thursday in a fire at the Lakewood Towers apartments in Baltimore.
The Sun regrets the errors.

A second apartment building at Lakeview, at 717 Druid Park Lake Drive, does have sprinklers in each apartment because it was built in 1980, after the regulations changed during the 1970s, a city spokesman said.

"Both buildings were compliant when the building permits were issued and are still compliant," said Melvin Edwards, spokesman for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, which owns and operates Lakeview Towers. "But the laws have changed, and they were grandfathered in."

The city has discussed putting sprinklers in the 727 building, Edwards said, but has no plans to do so.

The fire started in the bedroom of Apartment 3A where Warren had lived for six weeks. By the time firefighters entered the apartment, the woman was unconscious, overcome by smoke and burned over much of her body, said Fire Department spokesman Kevin Cartwright.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but foul play is not suspected, Cartwright said.

Warren was disabled, suffering from uncontrollable seizures, said her mother, Mozelle D. Dozier. Warren, who lived alone, had worked for about 20 years at the American Tobacco Co. before quitting because of disability in the early 1990s, her mother said.

"She liked going to the movies and visiting her friends," Dozier said. "She had a lot of friends, and they would come by here and visit me and what not. It still really hasn't hit me that she's gone."

The fire was contained to Warren's apartment, but smoke filled the 15-story building, forcing many residents out onto their balconies in frigid temperatures screaming for help.

Two other Lakeview residents were in critical condition yesterday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center's hyperbaric therapy unit. Their names were not released.

Others with less serious injuries were hospitalized elsewhere for burns and smoke inhalation. Some were being treated for pre-existing illnesses, such as high blood pressure and asthma, that were aggravated by the fire and smoke.

A few residents said Thursday that they never heard a smoke alarm in their building. But Edwards, the housing authority spokesman, said Warren's apartment did have an operable smoke alarm and fire-detecting device as did other apartments in the building.

Cartwright said the Fire Department's investigation would include an inquiry into whether smoke alarms were working. Yesterday, fire officials had not determined whether the devices were operating during the fire, he said.

Meanwhile, the city confirmed yesterday that plans were under way to upgrade or perform maintenance on the sprinkler system in the apartment tower at 717 Druid Park Lake Drive.

Edwards described the work planned for 717 as routine, such as changing worn sprinkler heads.

Regarding the installation of sprinklers at 727, where the fire occurred, Edwards said: "It was being discussed, [but for] a nonspecific date."

Edwards said cost is often an issue for the city agency as it considers various maintenance and safety upgrades at all housing authority properties each year.

Edwards said both buildings at Lakeview were most recently inspected in May last year and passed. He said neither building has any code violations listed in recent years and undergo annual inspections.

Edwards said six Lakeview residents are being provided temporary housing at the Mount Washington Hotel until their apartments are repaired. The residents should be able to return to their homes by Wednesday.

Warren's apartment was destroyed in the fire.

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