Candle Use Suspected In Fire That Killed 2, Including Girl, 7

April 21, 2009|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,

The 7-year-old girl fell asleep Friday night, safe on a neighbor's couch. But shortly before midnight, her mother picked her up and took her to the home where they were staying, a rowhouse where the electricity had been shut off for more than a year.

"I don't know why she'd do that, in the dark," said the neighbor, Keisha Council, 26. "She should have left her here."

About two hours later, the rowhouse in the 1400 block of N. Broadway was an inferno, and the girl, whom neighbors knew as Regina, was trapped inside.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Tuesday's editions misstated the reason electricity had been shut off in a house in the 1400 block of Broadway that was the scene of a fatal fire Saturday morning. The power was cut off more than a year ago because Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. was notified that the property owner had died. BGE had no further contact with the house or its occupants before the fire.
The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

An adult woman also died in the blaze, which destroyed the rowhouse. The house was flanked on both sides by vacant rowhouses that were also damaged and condemned by the city.

The names of the victims were not confirmed by the Fire Department, but some neighbors knew the little girl who died as Gina, short for Regina.

Fire investigators are reviewing whether the fire was caused by candles. Chief Kevin Cartwright, a city Fire Department spokesman, said the woman and child who died were found together in a rear second-floor bedroom. A man was in the house when the fire started, but investigators didn't know his relation to the others in the house.

Linda Foy, a BGE spokeswoman, said the home had not had electricity for more than a year because the utility was notified that the account holder had died. The home was registered to Kathleen Parker and Ernest Lee, who could not be found yesterday for comment. It was not clear whether the home was legally rented, still maintained by owners listed in the state tax assessment database, or used by squatters.

"If there were people living in the house, we would not know that," Foy said.

It was the second fatal fire this month in a Baltimore home that lacked electricity. Betty Godfrey, who lived in a house in the 2600 block of Aisquith St., died after suffering serious injuries in a fire April 5. Fire officials said the home lacked power, and a cause of the blaze remained under investigation.

Foy said a turnoff notice had been issued on the Broadway property, and BGE inspectors had returned to the house for reasons she said she could not reveal because of confidentiality requirements.

The fire left Council, a grocery store clerk, feeling angry over the girl's death. On the night of the fire, Council said, she saw Regina's mother and her mother's boyfriend outside on the street. The boyfriend at one point yelled at the man who had alerted Council to the fire, accusing him of causing the blaze, she said.

But as the flames in the house intensified, Council said, no one tried to save the two people inside the house. By the time firefighters got to the scene, the house was consumed. It burned for about two hours, and the victims' bodies were eventually lowered to the street from a second-floor window, she said.

"Nobody tried to be the hero," Council said.

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