Deadly fire tied to smoking

July 09, 2008|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,Sun reporter

ST. MICHAELS - Nearly a year after an early-morning fire raged through a luxury home, killing three of the seven young friends and siblings who were spending the weekend, fire officials have ruled the blaze accidental - started by a discarded cigarette on a back porch.

Firefighters who arrived at the home along the Miles River about 2 a.m. Aug. 18, 2007, struggled for 45 minutes against high winds to put out the fire, said Joseph G. Zurolo Jr., deputy state fire marshal.

Investigators don't know how long the fire might have burned before the occupants were roused by smoke alarms in the 6,600-square-foot house.

"When the firefighters arrived, the whole house was engulfed," Zurolo said. "They had to change their approach to the house, there was so much smoke and fire coming from the front.

"This was a huge house, and there was just no way for them to have rescued any of the victims who didn't get out, even with 50 firefighters and a couple of fireboats helping out. The wind just comes right up the river."

Killed in the fire were Margaret Rose "Maggie" Fitzgerald, 18; her brother, 20-year-old Kennedy Fitzgerald; and his girlfriend, 19-year-old Renee Maier.

One of the Fitzgerald's siblings, 15-year-old Clara, and three friends escaped.

Maier and Kennedy Fitzgerald were students at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he had won academic honors. Maggie Fitzgerald was president of her 2007 senior class at Saints Peter and Paul High in Easton.

Friends and neighbors in the close-knit high school community had begun hearing rumors about the cause of the fire in recent days, said Debra McQuaid, the guidance counselor at the 215-student school.

"I don't know whether having answers will make a real difference for a lot of our kids," said McQuaid. "It was a devastating loss of good friends."

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