Woman dies, 3 hurt in apartment blaze

Her death brings number of fire-related fatalities in city to 19 this year

March 21, 2004|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

A fire in an East Baltimore apartment claimed the life of an 80-year-old woman yesterday morning and sent three people to the hospital, bringing the number of fire deaths in the city to 19 this year.

Firefighters responding about 8:30 a.m. to a report of a fire in the 4100 block of E. Lombard St. found heavy smoke coming from the windows of two second-floor apartments, city fire officials said.

Eight of the nine residents who occupied one apartment had escaped through a back entrance and indicated to firefighters that someone was trapped inside. After extinguishing the fire, they found the woman dead in a wheelchair in a front bedroom, according to James J. Gardner, a city Fire Department spokesman.

He said that two young women and an infant suffering from mild smoke inhalation were transported to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Three residents in the adjacent apartment, which had a working smoke detector, escaped without injury. City fire officials found a broken smoke detector in the unit where the fire occurred.

They were unsure of the relationships of the people who occupied the apartment because none of them spoke English, Gardiner said. Firefighters were unable to provide the names of the occupants.

Reuben Rainey III, who lived with two roommates in the apartment that had a working smoke detector, said he had just gotten up when he heard the warning sound.

"I peeked down the hallway and saw a little ball of fire right at the door," Rainey said. "I grabbed a bucket of water and threw it on the flames, called the Fire Department and told my roommates to get out."

Rainey said he didn't know his neighbors very well.

The Red Cross is working to find shelter and clothing for the survivors, city officials said.

The fire occurred on the first day of a statewide fire safety initiative prompted by a marked increase in fire fatalities this year.

The total number of fire deaths in the city last year was 27. As part of the fire safety effort, city firefighters visited neighborhoods yesterday to distribute brochures on safety tips, to install smoke detectors and to advise residents on fire escape plans.

"These things can happen on any given day in any given neighborhood," said division Chief Theodore Saunders. "It drives home the point of what we're trying to do and how important it is.

"It's unconscionable that people go to bed at night not protecting themselves and their loved ones with a working smoke detector that the Baltimore City Fire Department will give to you free of charge," Saunders said.

Saunders said the cause of the yesterday's fire is under investigation.

For information on free smoke detectors, call 410-396-SAVE.

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