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3-year-old dies, others unharmed in house fire Firefighters suspect child playing with lighter fluid caused blaze in Govans


A 3-year-old boy died in a fire yesterday in a North Baltimore rowhouse, apparently while playing with lighter fluid, fire officials said.

The boy, James Simon, was playing by himself in a basement clubroom in the two-story brick house in Govans, at 908 St. Dunstans Road, said Lt. Thurman Pugh, a spokesman for the Baltimore Fire Department. The fire began about 3:45 p.m., he said.

Lieutenant Pugh said investigators were not sure what ignited the liquid. He said the boy apparently spilled the fluid on a couch and himself.

It was a "fast-moving," one-alarm fire, Lieutenant Pugh said.

He said there was a smoke detector in a second-floor apartment, but it was not working. No smoke detectors were on the first floor, Lieutenant Pugh said.

Four adults in the house escaped unharmed, and there was minor damage to adjoining houses, fire officials said. No damage estimate was available.

The boy's mother, Donna Jones, of O'Donnell Heights had left the child with a baby sitter, Rhonda Nichols, 28, who lived in a second-floor apartment at the house with Gerald Harris, 30, the boy's uncle.

Lamont Strong, 25, lived in a first-floor apartment, with his mother, Gloria Strong, 44, who is recovering from brain surgery. He said he smelled smoke and helped his mother into the street.

After escaping from the house, Ms. Nichols and Mr. Harris told Mr. Strong the boy was inside. Mr. Strong said he and another man kicked down the rear door in an effort to save the boy.

"The smoke was too thick," Mr. Strong said, and he could not get in.

Fred Hammett, 31, who lives across the street said he did not know the house was burning until he heard fire trucks coming down the street. He was outside washing his car.

"The next thing I knew they were knocking out the windows and hosing it down," Mr. Hammett said. "They just responded very quickly."

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