Blaze displaces at least 16

Firefighters' quick action lauded

one resident taken to hospital

May 15, 2008|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,Sun reporter

At first, Monique Holmes thought the noise that shook her awake about 6:30 a.m. yesterday came from her alarm clock.

But then she saw smoke filling her second-floor West Baltimore apartment and realized that the blaring sound was the smoke detector. She yelled for her young children, Marcus and Michael Clark, who jumped from their beds and ran into her room. They opened windows and gulped in fresh air.

Holmes called 911 while her friend, Cherisse Hamlett, shouted to people below to prepare to catch the children in case they jumped.

But city firefighters quickly arrived, and the children and women safely climbed down the ladders as the fire raged in the Windsor Forest Apartment complex in the 4900 block of Challedon Road.

"I was scared and I felt safe at the same time," said Marcus, who is 10. His younger brother, Michael, 7, said that he saw a firefighter swing an ax and break a window before carrying him to safety. The firefighter "told me to hold onto his shoulder and then I got down, I ran to my mother, and I felt really safe," he said, his voice trembling.

The fire damaged at least eight apartments and displaced at least 16 people, many of whom ran out of their apartments in pajamas and wrapped in bedsheets.

Residents credited the Fire Department with responding quickly and rescuing people trapped in the upper levels of the three-story building during the three-alarm fire.

Chief Kevin Cartwright, a Fire Department spokesman, said firefighters encountered a "very dramatic scene" when they pulled up, with people waiting to be rescued and "heavy, heavy fire and smoke" engulfing the building. Firefighters rescued Hamlett, 26, Holmes and her two children, and a 49-year-old woman who was hospitalized with second-degree burns. No one else was injured.

The cause of the fire and where it started in the building are being investigated.

Fire Chief James S. Clack went to the scene but did not take over command. "I could see by where the ladder truck was positioned they did a great job," Clack said of the firefighters. "It was a dead-end street and tough to reach. The firefighters on that ladder truck did a great job positioning the truck, and the result was a spectacular rescue."

Anthony Johnson, 45, said he, too, awoke to a fire alarm sounding. "I opened up the front door and the fire was coming up," Johnson said. "So I went to the patio ... and I just jumped."

Olabode Quadri, 39, who lives in a first-floor apartment, said he moved into the building about two weeks ago. He awoke to a burning smell. At first, he thought it was a broken heater. Then he looked out the window.

"I saw firemen trying to put out the fire," Quadri said, sitting outside the smoldering apartment building in his bathrobe, long thermal underwear and slippers. "I came outside and I saw it was a fire incident. I saw the fire burning."

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

ONLINE

See two videos and more photos of the fire scene at baltimoresun.com/fire

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