The fire that claimed the lives of two children and a grandmother yesterday in Dundalk began in the kitchen, but that is all firefighters have learned about Baltimore County's deadliest blaze this year.
Investigators will continue to search the debris to learn how the two-alarm fire started and quickly engulfed a rowhouse in the 2000 block of Frames Road, located near Lynch Cove.
Five people escaped the flames, including the mother of one of the victims, who apparently jumped from a second-floor window. "She was hoping somebody would throw her children down," said Battalion Chief Mark L. Hubbard. "That never happened."
Names of the victims were not available yesterday because investigators had difficulty notifying relatives.
A county Fire Department spokesman, Battalion Chief Patrick T. Kelly, said investigators were trying to sort through a confusing array of relationships. Two families apparently shared the rowhouse, as well as cousins and grandparents.
Pronounced dead on the scene were an 8-year-old boy, a 4-year-old girl and a 50-year-old woman, who was the grandmother of one of the children killed in the fire. Officials said the two children were not related. Their mothers escaped.
The grandmother and one of the children were found in a front bathroom. Another child was found at a second-floor bedroom window.
The other occupants, the two 26-year-old mothers and two 4-year-old twin boys and a 2-year-old girl, escaped on their own. Chief Kelly said they were taken to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center for observation.
"From the looks of the house, you can see there was fire coming out from all directions," Chief Kelly said.
"The one woman who was sleeping downstairs awoke to a lot of smoke, saw some flames and got out as fast as she could," Chief Kelly said. "The house was engulfed at that point. The victims didn't have a whole lot of chance of getting out."
Stunned neighbors, many dressed in shorts and T-shirts and clutching morning coffee cups, gathered on lawns and on the street as they watched the scene unfold. Children clung to each other in tears.
"We just played tag yesterday," sobbed 10-year-old Erika Gittings, who knew one of the victims. "And now she's dead."
The fire, which broke out shortly before 6 a.m., was under control about 30 minutes later. The deaths bring to seven the number of people killed in fires in Baltimore County this year.
Officials said three smoke detectors were found in the house, but fire investigators were not sure if they were working. A damage estimate was not available. The roof of an adjoining rowhouse was slightly damaged.
Witnesses reported a hectic scene.
"One lady was really badly burned," said Denise Taylor, 36, who lives across the street from the back of the rowhouse. "She was screaming, trying to tell everybody to help her kids."
Amy Engleman, 19, helped get blankets for the occupants who escaped. Today is her daughter Brittany's second birthday, and the two dead children had been invited to the celebration.
"She's 2. She doesn't even know what's going on," Ms. Engleman said. "They were supposed to go to a party today, and now this."