One killed, one injured in West Baltimore fire

One woman was killed and another injured in a fire that broke out in a West Baltimore rowhouse early Thursday, according to Fire Department officials.

Neighbors in the 1000 block of N. Rosedale St. in the city's Franklintown Road neighborhood said they were alerted to the blaze when they heard screaming and breaking glass sometime after 4 a.m.

Fire officials identified the woman who died in the fire as Brenda Gittings-Sewell, 70. Her daughter, Cynthia Sewell, 43, is being treated for burns she suffered over 30 percent of her body.

Lonnie Harvey, 51, a resident of the neighborhood for 24 years, said he ran outside after hearing the sounds. "I was half-asleep when I saw the fire shooting out the window," he said. One woman had already run out of the front of the home, he said. Screams could be heard from the rear.

Harvey grabbed a large ladder and joined other men from the street as they ran to the rear — halfway down a narrow alley — to try to reach a second-story window, he said.

"It was a whole bunch of guys. It was everybody on the block trying to help," Harvey said. "It's just a natural thing somebody would do to try to help someone in trouble — just an impulse. Sometimes you don't even think about your own safety."

Some of the men tried to climb the ladder to reach the window, Harvey said, but the smoke was overwhelming. "We couldn't even breathe."

By the time firefighters responded just before 5 a.m., they found the two-story home engulfed in flames, said Chief Kevin Cartwright, a Fire Department spokesman. Cartwright described firefighters' efforts to save the women as "valiant."

Kenneth Grier, 18, one of the neighborhood men who had tried to help, said he saw a fireman trying to pull Gittings-Sewell from the rear second-story window without success.

"I saw the fireman try to pull her out, but he couldn't," Grier said. "The fire came into the room, and the whole backyard was black with smoke."

Gittings-Sewell, who suffered from burns and smoke inhalation, was pronounced dead at the scene, Cartwright said.

The fire, brought under control about 6:30 a.m., was contained to the single home, Cartwright said. Windows at the front and rear of the home were broken out, and the interior of the first floor appeared fully burned out.

Firefighters worked inside, throwing trash cans full of charred debris into the front yard as small groups of neighborhood children passed by on their way to school.

Investigators were trying to determine the cause, and it was not yet known whether the home had working smoke detectors, Cartwright said. No other injuries were reported. Damage to the home was estimated at $75,000.

Earlier Thursday, firefighters responded to a fire at a house in the 6200 block of Harford Road in the Westfield neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore. No one was injured.

Baltimore Sun reporter Carrie Wells contributed to this article.

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