Early-morning blaze kills 2

More than 60 firefighters respond to Eldersburg house fire

July 24, 2006|By LAURA MCCANDLISH | LAURA MCCANDLISH,SUN REPORTER

The former longtime owner of a Pikesville auto shop and his son died in a fire that ravaged their cluttered Eldersburg home early yesterday, fire officials said.

Firefighters found the body of Richard Hamilton Stewart, 78, in his bedroom, and that of his son, Richard Hamilton Stewart II, 51, in the downstairs bathroom, said Bill Rehkopf, spokesman for the Sykesville Freedom District Fire Department. The brick split-level house in the 6200 block of Long Meadow Drive had no working smoke detector, Rehkopf said.

More than 60 firefighters from Carroll, Howard and Baltimore counties arrived at 2:23 a.m. and had the two-alarm blaze under control in 45 minutes, Rehkopf said.

James Hiler Sr., 71, the Stewarts' neighbor of 30 years, said he was awakened by his barking dog, saw the flames engulfing the house next door and called 911 about 2:15 a.m.

Though the fire is still under investigation, Rehkopf said the fire appeared to have started in the basement.

Outside the house yesterday, the son and brother of the victims, Glenn Stewart, 47, of Owings Mills, speculated that his brother's cigarette might have accidentally ignited the fire.

Piles of charred debris, including cookbooks, clothes, furniture and a baby grand piano that fell to the basement when the first floor collapsed, were in heaps on the lawn in front of the scorched house yesterday.

"They were packrats," Rehkopf said of the Stewarts. "There was so much clutter stacked up throughout the house. It made it very difficult to search for the victims."

The elder Stewart's wife, Kathleen Stewart, 81, has Alzheimer's disease and was at Northwest Hospital Center at the time of the fire, according to Glenn Stewart. "She doesn't even know [of their deaths]," Stewart said. "She wouldn't understand."

The elder Stewart had run Pikesville Automotive Service Center on Reisterstown Road since the 1960s, his son said. He still went to work with a smile every day even though he sold the business to Yossef Shavi five years ago, Shavi said, standing in front of the house yesterday.

"He's known by thousands of people, by two and three generations in Pikesville," Shavi said. "I never met anyone like him. This guy was so full of life, he could have lived another 20 years."

The younger Stewart had worked as an electrical engineer.

The home and contents sustained approximately $200,000 worth of damage, according to the state fire marshal's office.

The medical examiner's office in Baltimore was scheduled to perform autopsies on the victims.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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