Routine hazards cause deadly Baltimore house fires

Children playing with matches, food left unattended on the stove and electric cords buried beneath carpeting were the causes of the house fires last week that killed four children and an elderly woman in Baltimore, fire officials said Monday.

"All these things have happened in the past, and they're not being shared appropriately with everybody that's coming up," Bruce Bouch, the deputy state fire marshal, said Monday. "We need to do a better job of training and informing. ... It happens way too often."


The five deaths, as well as a sixth person killed Sunday in Western Maryland and a seventh who died Monday afternoon near Pimlico Race Course, have pushed to 61 the number of people who have died in fires this year in Maryland, according to the state fire marshal's office. That's two more than during the same period last year.

The state is on pace to surpass the 62 fire deaths of last year and the 64 of 2014. Baltimore has seen 12 people killed in fires this year, down from 18 in both 2015 and 2014.


Before last week, fire officials were hopeful of seeing a decline in the state number for a third consecutive year.

"Everything has drastically taken a change for the worse," Bouch said.

Baltimore firefighters are planning to visit neighborhoods Saturday, weather permitting, to offer free smoke detectors and remind families of fire safety, Chief Roman Clark said.

"Our biggest challenge is trying to catch the working adults," he said. "The only opportunity we get to them is during the weekend."

Dried Christmas trees, overloaded electrical outlets and open candles all increase the risk of fire during the holidays.

Across Maryland, residential fires increased about 30 percent from the summer of 2015 to last winter, according to Cyndi Ryan, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross of the Greater Chesapeake Region.

Fire officials said a fire early Saturday in the Westport neighborhood of South Baltimore was caused by unattended cooking on the stove.

Kamarl Ferrell, 10, and Tylynn McDuffie, 1, died in the fire. Their 27-year-old mother escaped with her 4-year-old daughter.

Four people died last year in fires caused by cooking, according to the fire marshal.

Alicia Wilson, vice president of community affairs at Sagamore Development, visited the mother Monday afternoon in the hospital. Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank's development company has pledged to help the grieving mother with housing and clothes.

"She's in shock," Wilson said. "She cried when I started talking to her about how we can help."

Neighbors are also organizing to provide the family with clothing and support, City Councilman Edward Reisinger said.


"It seems like the neighborhood and the community at large has circled the wagons to help," he said.

Officials said the fire Wednesday night in East Baltimore that killed brothers Nigel Ramirez, 3, and Exekial Ramirez, 9 months, was caused by children playing with matches.

Two children in the rowhouse escaped. Neighbors found the boys' mother outside yelling for help. She was hospitalized.

There were no fire deaths last year caused by children playing, according to the fire marshal.

Investigators also determined that overheated electrical cords under a carpet caused the fire Saturday afternoon in the Lower Edmondson Village neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore that killed Polly Taylor, 90.

Taylor was pulled from the burning home but died Sunday morning of smoke inhalation.

Electrical fires killed 16 people in Maryland last year.

Extension cords should never be used when coiled or looped, or covered by newspapers, clothing or rugs, firefighters said.

A man in his 50s died Monday in a house fire near Pimlico in Northwest Baltimore, firefighters said. An elderly woman was warned by smoke alarms and escaped. The cause of that fire has not been determined.

Fire officials are offering safety advice for the holidays.

Families should keep Christmas trees well watered. Lights should be inspected for damage such as exposed wires. Gas stoves, water heaters and furnaces should be checked each winter by a licensed inspector.

Families should sleep with their bedroom doors closed, Bouch said.

"It stops the progress of the fire," he said. "That door will give you protection."

When home furnishings were solid wood and slow-burning, he said, there was more time to escape a fire.

Now, there's more plastic and particle board — materials that can cause flames to envelop a room as fast as three minutes.

"Our ability to escape a fire is reduced," Bouch said.

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