Fatal city fire is investigated

Arson ruled out

officials scour site for clues

October 12, 2006|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,sun reporter

Fire officials said yesterday that a rowhouse fire in Greektown that killed a Baltimore firefighter Tuesday probably started in the rear basement of the two-story home, but investigators were still unsure what caused it.

Investigators spent the day sifting through debris from the house on South Macon Street, just off Eastern Avenue.

Fire Marshal Theodore G. Saunders said officials might not know what caused the fire until next week at the earliest. He said arson has been ruled out.

The fire injured two firefighters and killed Allan M. Roberts, 40, a 19-year veteran and the first city firefighter to die while battling a blaze in more than a decade. Firefighter James Butler was released from a hospital Tuesday; Brandon Mattox was in good condition yesterday at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

The 500 block of S. Macon St. was blocked off with police tape yesterday. A 75-foot crane extended over the burned house. An operator lowered a grapple through what was left of the roof and plucked out debris. Piles of blackened wood, wires and a charred bicycle were on the sidewalk in front of the house.

The first floor of the house had collapsed into the basement, and the second floor collapsed onto the first floor. A hole was burned through the roof.

"If you got an aerial view, you could look straight through the roof to the basement, but you wouldn't know it was a basement," Saunders said. The fire took two hours to put out and temperatures reached at least 1,800 degrees, Saunders said, and spread to the two adjacent rowhouses.

Firefighters constructed wooden frames to support portions of the house and make it safer to enter. They expect to finish removing debris by today.

The fire was reported about 2 a.m. Believing people were trapped, Roberts and two firefighters went into the first floor of the burning rowhouse but quickly noted that it was unusually hot inside.

Before they could get out through the front door, the first floor burst into flames.

The front door jammed as the three tried to escape. Firefighters outside cracked a hole in the door and pulled two to safety. Roberts was carried out and pronounced dead at Bayview.

The two people who had been reported trapped had escaped before firefighters arrived.

Two federal safety inspectors are expected to arrive today from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. They will examine the communications from the initial 911 calls to determine what happened.

"The purpose is not to assess blame. [Investigators want to] determine what happened, and what could be done," said Tim Pizatella, the deputy director of the institute's division of safety research. He said the federal agency became involved at the request of the city Fire Department.

Yesterday, fire officials completed funeral arraignments for Roberts. Viewings will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at Leonard J. Ruck Funeral Home, 5305 Harford Road.

Roberts is survived by his wife, Teresa, and four children: Daniel, 18 months, Jacob, 5, Katie, 11, and Samantha, 13. An earlier marriage to Alice Marie Ritter ended in divorce.

A funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Monday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St. Immediately after the funeral, there will be a procession to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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