Rowhouse fire kills 2

2-year-old girl, great-grandmother found on second floor of Broadway East home

November 14, 2008|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,justin.fenton@baltsun.com

As firefighters worked to dampen what was left of a blaze that engulfed an East Baltimore rowhouse yesterday morning, a man with a determined gait swept past the yellow police tape, his eyes darting back and forth in search of someone who could confirm his worst fears.

"My baby died?" he screamed, as two men held him back in the driving rain. "My baby died?"

The fire broke out at about 10:30 a.m. in the 2000 block of E. Hoffman St. in the city's Broadway East neighborhood, according to fire officials. Firefighters found two people dead in an upstairs bedroom. Neighbors and relatives at the scene identified them as 2-year-old Nysajah Bell and her great-grandmother, 56-year-old Patsy McCoy. Fire officials declined to confirm the identities yesterday.

Mayor Sheila Dixon visited the scene and spoke to grief-stricken family members who had gathered in a home across the street, offering her condolences and the city's support. Dixon said the child's mother had been at the home about 30 minutes before the fire began and returned to find it engulfed in flames.

"We have to keep them in our prayers and offer the kind of support to keep them strong " as fire officials investigate the cause, Dixon said.

The child's mother, Stacey Jones, had run out to the store with one of her two young daughters, leaving Nysajah at home with her great-grandmother, according to friend Wendy Lilly, 38. When she returned, "big flames, a whole lot of smoke" were pouring out of the house, Lilly said, and she saw Jones collapse on the sidewalk screaming.

As they worked to extinguish the fire, the second floor began to collapse, and firefighters were ordered out of the structure, said Chief Kevin Cartwright, a Fire Department spokesman. At one point, large dust clouds puffed out of the open first-floor windows and onto the street.

The fire also spread to two adjacent homes; one was vacant, and the other was occupied, but the residents were not home at the time, Cartwright said.

Fire officials said it was too early to determine a cause of the fire, though Cartwright said firefighters did not observe or hear smoke detectors.

Nineteen people have died in fires this year, according to the Fire Department. That is down significantly from last year, when 34 were killed, the city's highest total since 1998. The lack of working smoke detectors was a common factor in 10 of the 24 fatal blazes last year.

More than 50 firefighters and police officers responded to the scene yesterday as neighbors, friends and family gathered nearby. Many stood without umbrellas in a heavy rain, trying to confirm details of the fire and consoling each other. One woman who said she was a relative sobbed, "Not again!" saying she had lost relatives in a fire last year on Cecil Avenue that killed eight people, including five children.

Friends and relatives said McCoy and her family had moved out of the house for a time last year because of issues with lead, returning in December. State records show the home was inspected for lead and certified in November 2007. Records show it was built in 1915 and was sold in January for $13,000 to a man with a Beltsville address.

McCoy raised her grandchildren and was helping to raise her great-grandchildren, according to neighbor Kim Carlton, 38. She worked as a nurse until recently, when she was slowed down by knee replacement surgery.

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