Fatal Baltimore fire ruled accidental, but police studying possible neglect


A fire that killed three children last month in Southwest Baltimore has been ruled accidental, caused by an unattended pot of food left on the stove, a Fire Department spokesman said yesterday.

But city police said they have not decided whether to file charges of neglect against the victims' mother. Her two sons and daughter were alone when the fire swept through their rowhouse in the 2200 block of Christian St., police said.

Killed in the May 8 fire were James Edward Ferguson, 5 months; Shaniqua Ferguson, 2; and Edward Ferguson, 3. Fire officials have identified the mother as Karen Johnson.

Neighbors and police officers tried to reach the children, who were trapped in a second-floor bedroom and could be heard crying for their mother . But neighbors and police said the heat and smoke were too intense.

Investigators had removed the kitchen stove and were looking at wiring in the house. Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. had turned off the power in July, and fire officials said the occupants were receiving electricity illegally.

Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a Fire Department spokesman, said investigators are unsure how the electric system had been jury-rigged, but he said one common way is to bypass the meter.

Torres said an electric malfunction has been ruled out. He said arson investigators have concluded that the stove was on and that a "pot of food or a pan was on the stove" and possibly ignited curtains or a cabinet.

"It was a rapid fire," Torres said. "Something there ignited quickly."

Torres said the day of the fire that a smoke detector sounded, but did no good because no adults were in the house.

The children's grandmother, Clara Johnson, 47, said at the time that her daughter had asked her to watch the children while she went to a store. Johnson said she was putting on her coat when a boy arrived and told her of the fire.

Sgt. Mark Howe, a police spokesman, said detectives are investigating the mother for allegedly leaving her children alone.

Pub Date: 6/02/98

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