`It was so much smoke'

2-year-old girl dies at hospital after S. Payson Street house fire

April 24, 2007|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,sun reporter

Samantha Williams could hear the toddler crying from two houses away.

It was Breanna Boston, 2, stuck in a smoke-filled room on the second floor of her grandparents' South Payson Street rowhouse.

"I wanted to help, but I couldn't," Williams said yesterday, standing near the burned rowhouse. "She was screaming."

At least one firefighter battled though heavy smoke and fire on the first floor and reached Breanna's room about 5 a.m. yesterday. By the time he got to the room, the toddler had inhaled too much smoke, said Chief Kevin Cartwright, a Fire Department spokesman. Paramedics rushed the child to University of Maryland Medical Center, where she died.

"She couldn't take it," Williams said. "She was too little."

She was the ninth person to die in a city fire this year, Cartwright said.

Breanna's mother, Anne Baker, escaped the fire. Her neighbors could not find her that morning. They gathered near the rowhouse and tried to track her down by cell phone. She was not at the hospital. Some people thought she might have gone to church.

Neighbors recounted a horrifying story. They said Baker was temporarily staying with her parents, who live in the South Payson Street house. When the fire broke out, they said Baker rounded up her children - saving four of them - but could not get her 2-year-old to safety.

"It was so much smoke," said Williams, who lives in the same block. "She tried. She got most of them. It wasn't enough."

Baker's surviving children include an infant, an 8-year-old, a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old, said Nesha Thomas, a cousin. Baker's parents also escaped the blaze.

City firefighters arrived at the house just before 5 a.m. and found heavy smoke coming from on the first and second floors, said Battalion Chief Fred Rouff.

"We had guys going though every window to find the little girl," Rouff said. "We swamped that place. We had so many people in there."

One of the men who entered the home was Lt. Rodney Williams. "It was very hot," he said. "It was unbearably hot. You started to feel the heat though the equipment."

Williams was with another firefighter. "We didn't find her right away," he said. "There was fire everywhere. Until they started hitting the fire [with water] and we went up again - then we were able to find her."

The child was lying in a hallway near the rear bedroom. "It was very emotional," he said. "We had the attitude that if we have people trapped we'll get them. We don't like to not accomplish that task."

Cartwright said Breanna was suffering a heart attack when a firefighter reached her.

The cause of the fire was being investigated, Cartwright said. Firefighters did not find any working smoke detectors in the debris, but records show that the house was inspected a few months ago and had three working detectors, Rouff said.

Yesterday, a group of women, some carrying toddlers, gathered next to the house. They talked about the fire and tried to call friends. The firetrucks were gone by 9:30 a.m., but a pile of debris on the sidewalk included a melted television set, cans of beans, light brown nail polish, a blackened refrigerator and a burned baby stroller.

Keyona Walker, a neighbor, said Breanna liked to run up and down the street, tagging behind other children on the block. "She liked to preach," Walker said. Neighbors smiled when Walker recalled how the toddler would shout, "Praise the Lord," "Hallelujah" and "Glory to God."

Baker and her young family had been living on Payson Street for a couple of months, said Bishop William E. Gaines, the family's landlord and pastor. "She came to stay with her mom and dad while she got money together to get a place of her own," Gaines said. "It was a temporary thing."

Thomas, the cousin, said that Baker and her family spent most nights in Park Heights in Northwest Baltimore. Baker brought her children back to the neighborhood Sunday because the weather was nice, and then it got late and they all decided to sleep over.

"It was just a nice day to be with the family," she said. "This is terrible."

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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