Two young children and a young man died yesterday after a fast-moving fire ripped through their Southwest Baltimore rowhouse - bringing to eight the number of city fire fatalities this month.
Baltimore fire officials acknowledged the unusual rash of fire deaths, but said the blazes were unrelated. Last year, 27 people died in fires.
"We're scratching our heads," said Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. "There are no common links. It's a highly unusual rash ... with varying, different causes."
Investigators were trying to determine the cause of the most recent blaze, which began about 11:55 p.m. Tuesday in the basement of a two-story rowhouse in the 200 block of S. Monroe St., Goodwin said.
Witnesses described flames leaping from windows and smoke billowing into the air as firefighters arrived.
Using ladders to scramble to the top floor, firefighters removed the two children and the 18-year-old man, officials said.
Jasmine Wells, 5, and Kevin Smith, 7, died a short time later at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, officials said.
The 18-year-old, Tyrone Hammond, died about 11:15 last night at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Fire officials had said he suffered burns over 75 percent of his body.
Martha A. Hammond, 44, leaped from a second-floor window to escape the smoke and flames and was also taken to Shock Trauma, fire officials said.
Hammond - the mother of Kevin and the grandmother of Jasmine - was treated for minor injuries and smoke inhalation and released from the hospital, officials said.
Yesterday afternoon, children's books, charred stuffed animals, soggy Christmas cards and clothes stood in a smoldering heap on the sidewalk.
Handwritten notes and stuffed animals were tied to the front steps' railing as a memorial.
"It's sad, really sad, children getting burned up," said Dorothy Taylor, 44, a friend of the Hammond family, who visited the scene.
"They didn't even have a chance," said another family friend, Juanita Akinniyi, 45, as she surveyed the charred home and its melted aluminum siding. "This is a big loss."
Neighbors said they heard screams just before midnight and then saw smoke blanketing the street and an alley.
Michael Brown, 19, said he was startled out of his bath by yelling coming from the Hammond house. He went outside and said he saw "fire coming from all the windows and the door."
Barbara Papa, who lives in the block, said a man began pounding on her door and screaming for her to call 911 just before midnight.
"He was yelling for help, for somebody to help children trapped inside," Papa said.
Papa said she heard a crash and watched people helping Hammond to her feet after she had leaped from her second-story window.
"Fire was everywhere," said Papa, who watched as a firefighters dashed through the open front door and into the flames.
"It was just terrible," Papa said. "They were very nice people and lost everything, and now their children."
Officials said they were investigating to determine whether the house had a smoke detector.