Fire damages Brooklyn church

Blaze erupts in area used by Head Start

no one is injured

February 09, 2007|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,Sun reporter

One nursery school class was painting. Another group was finishing a morning snack. Other children were brushing their teeth.

All the while, teachers for the St. Veronica's Head Start program, which meets in a church in South Baltimore's Brooklyn neighborhood, kept smelling faint whiffs of smoke. Then somebody ran down the hall and yelled that the building was on fire.

"My first thought was `Get the kids out,' " said Jena Smith, the education coordinator.

Smith, who has been on the job about a week, made sure that each of the 45 toddlers in her care grabbed a winter coat before filing out of Brooklyn United Methodist Church in the 3700 block of Fourth St. and into the frigid morning air.

The children, ages 3 to 5, got out before the Fire Department arrived about 10 a.m.

Firefighters reported seeing heavy smoke and fire in the basement and had the blaze under control by 10:40 a.m. No injuries were reported, said Chief Kevin Cartwright, a department spokesman.

Investigators were trying to determine a cause of the fire. There was moderate smoke and fire damage to the church's interior.

The Rev. James McMahan, the pastor and a former volunteer firefighter, saw heavy smoke and flames near a radiator in his office. He immediately sent someone to warn the children's program and then called 911.

Then he met the children outside and shepherded them into his brick home next door where his wife prepared hot chocolate, juice and popcorn for the children.

"They did really well," McMahan said.

The children sprawled on the pastor's living room floor, sang songs and munched on baby carrots. Some firefighters dropped in to play with them. And every 10 minutes or so a worried parent burst in to collect a child.

"You made it!" yelled one little boy when his father came in the door. He hugged his father's leg.

Another girl fretted that she didn't have her gloves. She had left them in the burning building.

Deidre Hamm picked up her granddaughter, and said she felt "panic" when she heard about the fire. Despite the bitter cold, the pair smiled as they walked away from the pastor's home.

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