A fire swept through a Baltimore rowhouse early yesterday morning, killing one man and injuring a woman, according to Fire Department officials.
Witnesses said that a mattress caught fire on the second floor of the building in the 2100 block of N. Calvert St. and that flames quickly spread to other rooms and floors.
When fire crews arrived about 3 a.m., they found the second and third floors of the building engulfed in flames, said Kevin Cartwright, chief public information officer for the Baltimore City Fire Department.
Firefighters pulled the man and woman from the burning building, but the man, who suffered serious burns and smoke inhalation, died shortly after arriving at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, Cartwright said. The woman, who was taken to the same hospital, is expected to survive.
Fire officials were trying to determine the victims' identities, Cartwright said.
Jasper "Tony" Backus, 50, who lived in the building, said he knew the dead man as "Al" but didn't know the injured woman. Backus said he had lent the man and woman the back room of the second floor for the night.
He said he was sleeping in another second-story room but was awakened about 2:30 a.m. by the sound of the woman screaming. He ran into the couple's room to see what was wrong and found that the mattress on fire.
"There were no lights," Backus said, "so they may have had a candle beside the bed." He said he grabbed a rug and threw it over the flames, but that Al pulled the rug off.
"He pulled the rug back, and the flames shot up," Backus said. "He wouldn't leave, he just kept looking at the fire."
Backus said he started shouting for everybody to get out of the building.
Johnny Satterfield, who lived on the third floor, said he also awoke to the sound of screams. "I looked down the steps, but I saw the flames coming up," Satterfield said. He escaped the building unharmed via a fire escape.
Backus said he ran down to the second floor to warn the couple that lived there, Kurt Richardson, 45, and Sherice Davis, 40, but they were not there. He later learned that they were away from the building at the time of the fire.
Seeing no one on the first floor, Backus said he tried to go back upstairs but that the fire was too intense. Soon after he exited the building, flames began shooting out the second-floor windows.
"All the windows blew out like there was a bomb up there," he said.
Backus and Satterfield, who are both construction workers for temporary employment agencies, said they paid $50 per week in rent to a man they called "Rob." Cartwright said the Fire Department was investigating whether the house was legally occupied, and that the cause of the fire had not yet been determined.
State records show that a man named Robert Harrington sold the property in January to a limited liability corporation with a mailing address in Houston. Attempts to reach Harrington and the Texas business were unsuccessful.
Backus and Satterfield said they lost all their belongings, apart from the clothes on their backs and their Social Security cards and birth certificates, in the blaze.
"I'll probably just end up going to a shelter," Satterfield said. "Just when you're trying to do right, and you think you're getting somewhere, something gets in your path."