S. Baltimore woman dies in blaze


A 46-year-old woman was killed and six firefighters were injured -- one seriously -- in a South Baltimore rowhouse blaze.

The victim, Joan Johnson, was asleep with her husband, Lloyd, in the two-story rowhouse in the 500 block of E. Fort Ave. yesterday evening when they heard a smoke alarm go off shortly before 7 o'clock he said, standing amid charred possessions on the sidewalk.

Mr. Johnson, a 49-year-old longshoreman, said he ran across the street to call the Fire Department and assumed his wife had run out the back door.

"I thought she was already gone," he said. "I thought she ran out the back. When I came back, I couldn't get near it, there was so much black smoke pouring out of the windows. The place went up like a tinder box."

The first alarm was called in at 6:56 p.m. A second was sounded at 7:02 p.m.

When firefighters arrived, they had to battle choking heat and smoke, said fire Battalion Chief Richard Armstrong.

"It was a very intense fire with heavy heat and smoke," he said. "We tried to get hose lines into the building, but it was so hot and intense, it was very slow."

Two of the firefighters were injured when the first floor of the building collapsed, sending the men and debris falling into the basement, said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a Fire Department spokesman.

The firefighter who was most seriously hurt was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Chief Torres said he was in "fairly good condition after all the debris that fell on him."

Betty Miller, 64, one of five occupants in the rowhouse, was treated for smoke inhalation, Chief Torres said. Relatives said she had burns on her back, arms and legs and was in stable condition at Shock Trauma.

The fire was caused by "careless smoking" in the basement of the rowhouse, Chief Torres said. "It had been smoldering for quite a while."

After the fire, neighbors circled Mr. Johnson and his older brother, Darrell Burton, 67, and urged the two to go to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation.

Mr. Burton, who said he felt fine, said he ran out of the house as soon as he saw the smoke and didn't try to return.

Mr. Johnson said his wife may have run into the second-floor bedroom instead of out the back door. "I guess she just got scared," he said.

Almost as soon as Mr. Johnson left the house to call 911 from a nearby store, the blaze raged out of control.

"As soon as I went down the steps, I couldn't get back," he said.

The fire charred the Formstone exterior of the house. The glass door was shattered, and the green awnings on the first and second floors were blackened.

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