Neighbor comes to rescue

One man reacts quickly and helps get residents to safety as a fire engulfs three homes on Collins Avenue in Southwest Baltimore


Alex-Sander Covington was catching up on some work on a house on Collins Avenue early yesterday when the darkened sky suddenly lit up. "It was like a volcano spitting flames on trees," he said.

A half-block away, three houses were in flames.

Covington raced over and banged on the door. "Your house is on fire," he told Gail Johnson, who answered. At the next house, he said, he kicked down the door and helped Charlett Scott to safety. He barged into the third house, but no one was home.

The early morning three-alarm fire in Southwest Baltimore destroyed three detached houses of families who have lived in the 300 block of Collins Ave. for generations. Chief Kevin Cartwright, a Fire Department spokesman, said the cause remains under investigation. He said the fire started in the middle house, located just off Frederick Avenue.

One emergency worker suffered a minor leg injury, Cartwright said. Scott was taken to St. Agnes Hospital for observation and released hours later. Four cats died in the fire, but firefighters rescued four bulldogs from Johnson's basement.

The middle house collapsed into a pile of wood and rubble that smoldered more than nine hours after the fire was first reported about 2 a.m. Housing officials condemned the other two houses.

"I heard someone banging on my door, and then, as I was leaving, I saw the whole side of my house lit up like daylight," said Johnson, one of the people Covington rescued. "It's devastating. You live somewhere for 30 years, and it's just gone."

Covington lives in an apartment across the street from where the fire started and works for a private contractor that frequently takes jobs in his neighborhood. He was fixing the walls of a house down the street when the lights started flickering and then turned off. Then he saw the fire.

He said training he received while he was in the Navy helped him react quickly. After he woke Johnson, he ran to Scott's home next door, which was burning from all sides. "It just waved over the whole house," he said of the flames.

The front door gave easily because of the heat. He found Scott in the living room. As he helped her get out, an explosion sent him to his knees, he said.

Covington said he then banged frantically on the front door of the third house, thinking that Shirley Phillips was inside. When no one answered, he kicked in the door and searched the house. But Phillips, who has lived on Collins Avenue for more than 50 years, was staying overnight at her daughter's house.

Johnson and her husband, Conrad, and Phillips' children and grandchildren stood by yesterday as firefighters doused their smoking homes. Later a crane tore through the rubble of what used to be Scott's house.

Yesterday afternoon, Covington looked on from across the street, leaning up against a fence, relieved that no one had died. "I mean, this is life," he said. "To my knowledge, you only get one of them."

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