Short-circuit blamed in fatal rowhouse fire

October 13, 2006|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,sun reporter

An electrical short-circuit in a water heater caused the blaze in Greektown this week that killed a Baltimore firefighter, and investigators have found evidence that the home was using an "unauthorized" electricity source, fire officials said yesterday.

"We found evidence that this house was using electricity that was unauthorized by Baltimore Gas and Electric," Fire Marshall Theodore G. Saunders said at a news conference yesterday. "The power had been shut off, but they were still getting electricity."

Saunders, joined by Fire Chief William J. Goodwin, Jr., declined to comment further, saying police were investigating.

Firefighter Allan M. Roberts, 40, died in the fire early Tuesday morning at 514 S. Macon St. Two rookie firefighters suffered burns in the fire, which spread to the two adjacent rowhouses and reached 1,800 degrees.

James Butler was released from the hospital Tuesday, and Brandon Mattox was in good condition yesterday at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

A man and a woman, whose names were not released, were thought to have been trapped in the home but escaped before firefighters arrived.

The two-alarm fire began shortly after 2 a.m. in the rear of the basement and spread quickly. Fire officials said an explosion called a "flashover" occurred just as firefighters were trying to retreat from the first floor.

Roberts, Butler and Mattox could not get out because the front door jammed. Firefighters outside pulled Butler and Mattox through a hole they cut into the door. Roberts was carried out and taken to Bayview, where he was pronounced dead.

Authorities released yesterday recordings of the 911 calls reporting the fire.

"In the 500 block of Macon Street, there's a whole bunch of black smoke coming out of this house," a female caller said. "I'm two blocks away, I can hear somebody yelling, `help.'"

In another call, a male said, "I'm at 527 South Macon. It's across the street, there's people hanging out the window, and there's all kind of smoke coming out and they're screaming for help."

Mayor Martin O'Malley announced a fund to benefit the education of Roberts' children, Daniel, 18 months, Jacob, 5, Katie, 11, and Samantha, 13. Roberts is also survived by his wife, Teresa.

Contributions can be sent to the Allan Roberts Educational Memorial Fund, c/o M&T Bank, Fountain Green Branch, 1201 Agora Drive, Bel Air 21014.

Roberts "rushed into a situation that most people would have rushed from, in order to fulfill his sacred duty to the people of Baltimore," O'Malley said in a statement. "And in so doing, he exhibited the valor, the courage, the dedication to his job and love for his people that have come to define a profession that is nothing short of a mission to answer humanity's highest calling."

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