3 members of family die in fire in Montgomery

December 11, 2007|By Gadi Dechter and Nick Madigan | Gadi Dechter and Nick Madigan,SUN REPORTERS

A 5-year-old boy, his mother and his grandmother were killed in a pre-dawn house fire yesterday near Gaithersburg, fire officials said.

The boy's 13-year-old brother, awakened by the alarm of a smoke detector, escaped from the house through a back door and "banged on a neighbor's door" to alert them to the fire, said Peter Piringer, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire-Rescue Department.

Oscar Sanchez was being treated for burns and smoke inhalation at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville and was expected to survive, Piringer said.

Officials identified the victims as Guillermina Curiel Garcia, 45, Paula Curiel, 75, and Adam Sanchez, who would have turned 6 tomorrow.

The children's father lives elsewhere in the area, Piringer said.

Piringer said firefighters found the brick ranch-style house "75 percent engulfed in fire" when they arrived about 4 a.m. in the 17800 block of Muncaster Road in Redland, east of Gaithersburg in northern Montgomery County.

Firefighters found Adam and his grandmother in a bedroom, officials said. Curiel was pronounced dead on the scene, and Adam died a short time later at a hospital.

Garcia was found dead in the dining room area, Piringer said.

All three victims are believed to have been alerted by the smoke alarm before they succumbed to their injuries, Piringer said, and it is not clear why they were unable to escape. Oscar had been asleep in the basement with the door closed when he was awakened by the alarm, officials said.

"Human behavior is something we look at, and we are curious about why people can't get out," Piringer said. "We advocate having an escape plan and practicing the plan with families."

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but firefighters found religious candles and something resembling a "shrine" in the living room area, he said.

The family also had space heaters and other heating sources that can cause fires, Piringer said.

Damage to the house was estimated at $250,000 to $300,000, fire officials said.

The fire brings the number of fire-related fatalities in Montgomery County this year to 13, about double the number in previous years. This is the third county fire this year that claimed multiple victims.

Fire officials have not yet identified any reasons for the increase in fire deaths. In recent years, most of the fatalities involved elderly victims and were traced to smoking or cooking-related fires, Piringer said.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Have an escape plan

The U.S. Fire Administration recommends having an escape plan. Officials note that a small fire can grow out of control in less than 30 seconds and that it takes only minutes for a house to fill with smoke and flame.

Among the agency's tips:

Practice escaping from every room in the house and have two ways to get out of each room. Make sure that windows are not stuck, collapsible ladders from upper-story windows are usable, screens can be removed quickly and security bars can be opened. Practice "feeling your way out."

Immediately leave the house. When a fire breaks out, don't try to save property. Crawl low, under the smoke, and keep your mouth covered.

Never open doors that are hot to the touch. When you approach a closed door, use the back of your hand to feel the top of the door, the doorknob, and the crack between the door and door frame to make sure that fire is not on the other side. If it feels hot, use your secondary escape route. If the door feels cool, open it carefully, bracing your shoulder against the door. If heat and smoke come in, slam the door, secure it and take your secondary escape route.

Designate a meeting place outside and take attendance. Designate someone to go to a neighbor's house to call the fire department.

Once out, stay out. Escape, then call 911. Never go back into a burning building. If someone is missing, tell firefighters.

Have working smoke alarms on every level of your home. Batteries should be tested every month and changed at least once a year. Consider replacing the entire smoke alarm every 10 years.

[Source: U.S. Fire Administration]

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