Three young girls died early today from burns and smoke inhalation after fired destroyed the North Monroe Street rowhouse in which they were sleeping.
A fourth girl was listed in critical condition at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Two adults, believed to be the parents, were in serious condition after suffering burns, injuries and smoke inhalation.
Fire Department spokesman Capt. Hector Torres said the cause of the fire was not known, but it probably had smoldered a long time before erupting. He said the likely cause was careless smoking or candles.
The captain said early today investigators were having problems identifying and getting ages of the young victims because probers were not able to talk with close relatives.
Captain Torres said the family moved into the house in the 200 block of N. Monroe St. last week without permission while it was up for sale, and all utilities were turned off.
He said the fire began shortly after 3 a.m. in an area on the first floor between the first-floor living room and the dining room near the stairs leading to the second floor.
He said the flames raced up the stairs like smoke up a chimney, trapping the four children as they slept on a mattress.
"They never had a chance," Captain Torres said.
By the time firefighters reached the children, each had gone into full cardiac arrest and had inhaled large amounts of smoke.
Two children were taken to St. Agnes Hospital and two went to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Two at St. Agnes and one at University were pronounced dead about 4 a.m.
The fourth child remained in critical condition at University.
As the house filled with flames and heavy smoke, a woman jumped from the second-floor front window. She was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center for treatment of severe smoke inhalation.
The man, who sustained multiple injuries and burns to the arms and hands, jumped from a second-floor rear window onto the porch of his neighbor and was taken to the regional burn unit at the Francis Scott Key Medical Center.
The neighbor, Theodore Daniels, said he was asleep when the man began banging on his back door.
"When I let him in," Mr. Daniels said, "I saw skin peeling off his hands and he was in terrible shape."
Officer Roderick Henry of the Western District arrived on the scene while the house was in flames.
"The woman was lying on the ground yelling and it was impossible for me to try to get into the house," Officer Henry said.