Boy, 11, dies in fire at home

Candle in bathroom ignites E. Baltimore blaze

Brother, 7, in critical condition

Electricity was shut off because of unpaid bills

January 01, 2004|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A fire started by a bathroom candle swept through an East Baltimore rowhouse early yesterday, killing one boy and injuring another despite the efforts of firefighters who pulled them from the blaze, officials said.

Davon Dortch, 11, died yesterday afternoon after being revived by paramedics and rushed to Johns Hopkins Children's Center. His brother, Fidel Russel, 7, was listed in critical condition at the hospital and was being treated for burns and smoke inhalation, officials said.

Their mother, Sharon Dortch, 33, was not injured.

Fire officials said that electricity at the house in the 400 block of N. Luzerne Ave. had been shut off since Dec. 19 and that the family was burning candles for light.

A spokeswoman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. said power had been disconnected because of unpaid bills.

The home's gas was to be shut off but was still connected at the time of the fire, which started just before 2:30 a.m. and quickly spread.

Firefighters on Truck 1, based at the Old Town fire station, were returning to the station after extinguishing a one-alarm fire on Eastern Avenue when they heard the call for the Luzerne Avenue fire, fire officials said.

They arrived within a minute, extended ladders to the second-floor windows and dashed inside, fire officials said.

They found one of the boys under his bed, the officials said, and the other in a corner.

The hearts of both boys had stopped beating, and paramedics resuscitated them on the ride to the hospital.

Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. said the children probably panicked and tried to hide as the house filled with smoke and flames.

Calling the firefighters on Truck 1 "heroic," Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. credited their efforts with giving the boys a chance at survival.

"They rose above and beyond the call," Goodwin. "I wish I could give them raises."

Goodwin said three smoke detectors were sounding when the firefighters arrived.

Neighbors said they heard Sharon Dortch screaming for help outside their windows.

Arturo Villalva, 25, who had been awakened by a friend, said he hustled his wife and three young children out of their house to safety. Villalva's rowhouse, adjacent to the Dortch residence, suffered water and smoke damage.

"This lady was running back and forth, screaming that both her kids were still in there," Villalva said as he stood next to a pile of charred debris that included toys, a melted tricycle, a roller skate and a burned photograph of two boys playing with a scooter in the street. "I could see flames in the windows."

Villalva said firefighters climbed ladders to the second floor and broke the windows. Within seconds of leaping into the house, they carried out two limp boys, Villalva said.

At the sight of the boys, their mother passed out on the sidewalk, awoke and started screaming again, he said.

"It seemed like they were dead," he said. "It was very scary. ... I have kids, too. It could happen to me."

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