5 children and relative saved from house fire


Five young children and their partially blind great-grandmother were rescued by firefighters yesterday from their smoke-filled East Baltimore rowhouse after a next-door neighbor ran a block to a community firehouse to get help.

The 81-year-old grandmother and the youngsters -- siblings and cousins alone with her in the two-story brick house in the 1600 block of Aisquith St. -- were hospitalized for smoke inhalation or burns.

Firefighters found the children under and on a bed -- one of them stuck between the headboard and wall -- in the burning basement, where an electric space heater apparently ignited the blaze.

The neighbor, George E. Thomas, 62, said he heard a woman shouting and went outside to find smoke coming from her house. When he was unable to force open the front door, Mr. Thomas said, he ran to the firehouse at 1220 E. Oliver St.

"The guy said the house next door was on fire, and started to leave," said Lt. Paul DeSimone of the firehouse's Truck Co. 5. "I had to stop him and say, 'Hey, where is it?' "

A bystander told arriving firefighters that children were trapped on the second floor, and Truck 5 Firefighter Jerry Knauer ran upstairs to find and carry out the semiconscious grandmother, Nellie Avery.

Lt. Phil Carpenter of Engine 19, also based at the firehouse, said he could see the smoky blaze was centered in the basement because the window had been kicked out. He said he carried the first hose line down the steps -- only to trip over a board that had been nailed across them and fall part of the way into the basement.

Other firefighters from the nearby Oldtown Station at 1100 Hillen St., entering through a back door with a hose line, found flames burning the foot of the bed and piles of clothing and lumber, and one by one found the children -- starting with the youngster stuck against the wall.

"We picked the one up, and he was moaning," said Firefighter Dan Leitner, of Oldtown's Engine Co. 6. "We got him out and picked up the mattress, and there's another one, and another one. I grabbed three of them. . . . The third one, the skin peeled from his wrist to his elbow."

"They all looked like babies, it was so quick passing them out," said Lt. David Heavel, of Oldtown's Truck 1.

The injured children, taken to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and Francis Scott Key Medical Center, were identified as Ashley Whitfield, 4, and her brothers Daniel, 2, and Michael Whitfield Jr., 3; and their cousins, Chaqon, 3, and Stephon Whitfield, 1.

Chaqon, Daniel and Stephon were in critical condition, Ashley was listed in fair condition, and Michael was stable. Mrs. Avery was in fair condition.

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