Survivor recalls horror of deadly fire

Family, friends mourn 2 children, young man

January 23, 2004|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Sitting on the front steps of her charred Southwest Baltimore home yesterday afternoon, Martha A. Hammond recalled the last moments of the lives of her 7-year-old son and 5-year-old granddaughter.

She and the children were walking upstairs late Tuesday to watch television when her son said he smelled smoke. The next few seconds passed in a blur, Hammond said, recalling that she lost sight of the children, became surrounded by smoke and panicked. She then leapt through a second-floor window, falling to the concrete below.

"I lost track of [the children]," said Hammond, 44, who wore a neck brace yesterday and suffered a burned hand. "I thought they went downstairs. ... They were scared."

Firefighters removed young Kevin Smith Jr. and Jasmine Wells from the second floor. The children died a short time later.

Hammond's 18-year-old son, Tyrone Hammond, was pulled from the blaze and suffered burns over 75 percent of his body. He died Wednesday night.

Fire officials said the blaze erupted about 11:55 p.m. in the basement of the home in the 200 block of S. Monroe St. and quickly spread throughout the structure. The cause remained undetermined yesterday.

"I feel awful," Hammond said. "I never thought it would happen to me."

The deaths - together with a fatal blaze late last night - pushed to nine the number of people who have died in fires this month in the city. Fire officials said they are perplexed by the rash of unrelated blazes. Last year, 27 people died in fires.

The latest victim was an unidentified man, apparently homeless, whose body was found by firefighters in a supposedly vacant rowhouse burning in the 3800 block of Park Heights Ave.

The one-alarm fire was reported about 10:40 last night. Authorities said the house evidently had been used by homeless men, but the victim was the only person found by firefighters. He was dead at the scene.

In the Monroe Street blaze, Hammond's daughter, Stephanie Burnett, came home early Wednesday to find the house destroyed and that her daughter, Jasmine, had died.

As she was hugged by friends on the sidewalk yesterday, Burnett couldn't stop crying as she surveyed the scene.

"She was my life, my heart," Burnett said of Jasmine. "I just want my family back."

Family members and friends said Kevin loved playing video games and would wrestle anybody who rose to his challenge. Jasmine was a shy girl who loved going to school, they said.

"She talked about school even on the weekends," Burnett said.

Tyrone Hammond had recently dropped out of high school and was trying to find work, relatives said.

Family members and friends said they were struggling to come up with funds to pay for the funerals and had not completed arrangements for services, which are to be held at Emmanuel Temple Holiness Church at 2133 W. Pratt St.

Relatives have established a memorial fund at Provident Bank to help pay for the burials, they said.

Just before family members arrived yesterday, about 50 people gathered outside the house for a 2 p.m. prayer vigil. Traffic rumbled by as mourners placed a pile of multicolored flowers on the rowhouse's front steps. They held hands as the Rev. Shantel Oliver-Louallen of Emmanuel Temple led them in prayer.

"We pray their lives will never be forgotten," Oliver-Louallen said. "God, we ask you to comfort our hearts."

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