Natalie Simmons stood in the fire-blackened kitchen of her mother's house in Windsor Mill on Monday morning and breathed a sigh of relief that the blaze hadn't been worse.
"I'm already gearing myself up to see what needs to be done," she said, not long after her mother, Edna Simmons, 76, had jumped out a second-floor window and landed in a bush as smoke filled the house on Bexhill Road.
"She was pale; she looked like she was in shock," the younger woman said, referring to the moment she saw her mother in an ambulance after being summoned by a police officer from her home around the corner. "I cracked a joke, and she laughed — it was just as much for me as it was for her."
The elder Simmons, who had a knee replaced three years ago and suffers from arthritis, had been plucked from the bush by a neighbor and a police officer and transported to Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Her son, Clarence A. Brown, and two of her grandchildren, who were not in the house, accompanied her to the hospital.
Her daughter said early Monday afternoon that doctors had found internal bleeding in her head, possibly the result of an injury from her fall, and administered drugs to "keep her from having a stroke." A spokeswoman for the hospital said Simmons was in serious condition.
Back at the house in the Rutherford Heights subdivision, Simmons' 45-year-old daughter appraised the situation inside the two-story structure, which is attached to the one next door and is covered by homeowner's insurance.
"The kitchen looks like it's melted," she said, looking around the room, its plastic fixtures reduced to shapeless drips, its appliances charred. The stench of smoke and burned possessions filled the house, despite the absence of windows, which had been smashed by firefighters and tossed into the yard.
"I had just taken my wedding dress out of here a week ago," Simmons said, looking through an upstairs bedroom to see what could be salvaged. Finding a photo album on a couch, she was relieved to see that it was unscathed.
Simmons, whose parents are divorced, suddenly remembered that she had not called her father, Charles W. Simmons, the president of Sojourner-Douglass College, to tell him about the fire. When she reached him on her cell phone, she went through all the details, including the fact that his former wife "had to jump out the window," that "all the windows have been ripped out" and that she could not get into the basement because it was such a mess.
After ending the phone call, Simmons said she and her mother had moved into the house in 1982, and that she moved out 10 years ago with her two children — a daughter, now 22, and a son, 16 — to an almost identical place on Spade Road, less than 100 feet away.
Simmons said firefighters told her the blaze started in the basement, which had flooded a few days ago and had recently been the site of problems with the water heater. She added that someone from Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. went to the house Friday to turn the pilot light back on.
Fortunately, she said, her mother had about five smoke detectors in the house, and was awakened Monday morning by one of them. Elise Armacost, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Fire Department, said that the presence of a working smoke detector "played a key role in the woman's survival."
The blaze was reported by the elder Simmons' neighbor, Philip Almateen, just after 6 a.m.
"My fire alarm went off, and I looked around to see if my place was on fire," Almateen said. "My house was filled with smoke."
Once he determined that the smoke was coming from his neighbor's house, Almateen went outside and hollered her name. "She told me she was in the bushes," he recalled. Unable to lift her from where she lay, Almateen told Simmons to wait while he went for help. When a police officer arrived, the two men moved the woman onto the lawn, where medics attended to her.
"She jumped out that window," Almateen said, pointing upward and sounding impressed. "That's something right there, for a 70-something-year-old woman."