Ashley Pass, left, and Colleen Pugaczewski fled their smoke-damaged… (Baltimore Sun/Amy Davis )
A three-alarm fire that spread across rooftops damaged a string of rowhouses in Canton on Sunday morning, displacing more than a dozen people and several frightened cats but causing no injuries, according to fire officials.
The blaze, first reported about 6:40 a.m. in the 900 block of South Bouldin St., sent residents and their guests racing to the smoke-filled street. One woman got her visiting daughter and four young grandchildren safely outside.
The owners of two houses volunteer at animal rescue centers and had at least six cats, including two kittens rescued last week from a feral colony. "God bless," said owner Julie M. Kichline as a firefighter brought out one of them, a calico named Bella.
"I woke up to a lot of screaming and ran out of the house," Kichline said. Residents up and down the street held cats, some in carry cases, others wrapped in blankets.
Fire singed the fur on a cat named Julie, which a firefighter found on a second-floor room that was badly damaged. "She was right there in the fire," the firefighter told owner Steven Ferguson, 39, as the animal received oxygen. "I'm surprised she got out."
More than 100 firefighters responded to the blaze, which was placed under control about 7:30 a.m. Chief Kevin Cartwright, a spokesman for the Baltimore Fire Department, said a cause has not yet been determined but said investigators believe the fire started in the roof of one of two rowhouses — 936 or 938 South Bouldin St.
Cartwright said the fire got into what is called a cockloft, an open space that runs across the tops of rowhouses on a block. "Once fire gets in there, it runs across," the spokesman said. "In order to stop it, firefighters had to create a trench in a roof."
Fire officials said seven rowhouses were damaged, four of them severely on the second floors. By 8 a.m., firefighters had rescued at least a half-dozen cats. Several remained missing.
Neighbors said the owner of the house at 938 South Bouldin St. had just installed a new roof and that construction was completed on Saturday. Several residents said they smelled what thought was smoke from something burning starting Saturday afternoon.
Kichline said she dismissed the smell, thinking people had fired up their charcoal grills for the holiday.
Paul Pelletier, 77, lives in Richmond, Va., and was visiting his daughter before she was to head off to India on Sunday. "This is quite a surprise," he said of the fire, while standing on the street in his slippers, sweatpants and wrapped in a white shawl. A firefighter brought him a cup of coffee.
Janice Dunnigan, 60, said she woke up when she heard a siren. At first, she thought nothing of it but then she heard the truck backing up. "I looked out my window and the street was full of smoke," she said.
She woke her daughter and got her four grandchildren, ages 4 through 6, outside. A firefighter found her cat, Cisco, standing on a box in the basement, and Dunnigan was holding him in a blanket across the street from her damaged house.
"For Christmas, my grandson got his two front teeth knocked out," she said. "And this is how I start the New Year."