Baltimore Rowhouse Fire, Possible Explosion Kills Child Walking Home From School

A young child walking home from school was killed Wednesday when an East Baltimore rowhouse that neighbors said exploded caught fire, sending rubble into the street and plumes of thick, black smoke over the area.

Three other people, including two adults who were in the house and another child outside, were taken to area hospitals with serious injuries that weren't considered life-threatening. The home in the 400 block of N. Lakewood Ave. was destroyed -- a wall crumbled and two floors collapsed.

Baltimore fire crews combing the rubble found the body of the child, who did not live at the residence but was in the vicinity of the home, said Ian Brennan, a Fire Department spokesman. The other child ran to William Paca Elementary School after the incident before being taken to the hospital, Brennan said.

More details on the victims were not released, as relatives were being notified, Brennan said.

Officials, who were determining the cause of the blaze Wednesday night, said they couldn't confirm that an explosion had occurred. Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. crews were at the scene to assist the investigation.

Residents of the McElderry Park neighborhood about a dozen blocks from Johns Hopkins Hospital reported hearing a loud boom. Many ran to the scene, where firefighters spent hours extinguishing the fire and searching through bricks and other debris for victims.

One woman, who did not give her name, wept in the street while firefighters searched, in fear that one of her grandsons was a victim. She said he walked down Jefferson Street, past the house on the corner with Lakewood, on his way home from school every day. But he had not come home yet, she said.

Another woman watched the search effort, wondering what could have happened if she and her three daughters had been closer to the house. Her children attend William Paca Elementary, where the school day ends at 2:40 p.m.

"I was taking my girls home from school and went right past it," said Mary Shafner, 53.

She said they were a few hundred feet down Jefferson Street when she heard a loud boom. She knew other children had been following them and looked back. That's when she saw the home's side wall "come out that way," she said, motioning to show how it collapsed into the street.

Shafner didn't see the other children she had seen earlier, though. "And that's when everyone was screaming, 'Get the kids,'" she said. Neighbors came out of their houses and tried to dig through the rubble, she said.

Another neighbor, in describing the scene, said the kitchen "flew" into the street.

"It's a shame. I can't imagine their mother. I can't even imagine that," Shafner said of the young victims. "It just happened so fast."

Firefighters were called to the scene about 3 p.m. They found the deceased child's body at about 4:30 p.m., and searched for additional victims for several hours but found none.

Bricks from the rear of the home were scattered at the scene. Cellphone videos posted online showed flames shooting out of the windows and from the roof, and a plume of black smoke was visible for miles across the city.

Crowds remained and watched for hours as firefighters worked. Some residents watched from their windows, others from their front steps, and a few covered their mouths with scarves because of the thick smoke.

Reginald Dargan, 55, said he was walking down Jefferson Street when he heard what he described as an explosion.

"Everything was normal out here. All of a sudden, just an explosion. The wall blew out from the kitchen," he said.

Dargan lives nearby. He empathized with the parents of the child who died. His own son, Tyrone Brown, a former Marine from Baltimore, was shot by off-duty Baltimore police officer Gahiji A. Tshamba in 2010 in a high-profile case.

"I really pray to God no kids was hurt. It's a sad thing, so much other stuff going around with the guns and the killing," he said. "I just pray that there are better days coming."

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article. ___

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