Correction to This Article
This Dec. 10 Metro article about a fire in northern Montgomery County misstated the number of fires in the county this year in which more than one person has been killed. There have been three fires, not nine, resulting in multiple deaths.

Fire Kills Three in Family; 1 Boy Escapes

The fire at the home in Derwood might have started in the living room/dining room area, but officials are uncertain of the cause.
The fire at the home in Derwood might have started in the living room/dining room area, but officials are uncertain of the cause. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Lori Aratani and Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Christmas decorations were already up in Guillermina Curiel Garcia's home on Muncaster Road in northern Montgomery County. And the family was set to celebrate her son Adam's sixth birthday tomorrow.

But early yesterday morning, fire swept through the residence in Derwood, killing Curiel Garcia, 45; her mother, Paula, 75; and Adam. Another son, 13-year-old Oscar, a student at nearby Redland Middle School, escaped.

Fire Chief Thomas W. Carr Jr. said 13 people have died in residential fires in the county this year, the highest number in three decades. Last year, there were four fire-related deaths in the county.

The cause of yesterday's fire, which started shortly before 4 a.m., remains under investigation. Carr said the flames were so intense that firefighters had difficulty entering the home, in the 17800 block of Muncaster Road.

Pete Piringer, a fire department spokesman, said that Curiel Garcia's 13-year-old son was sleeping in the basement when he was awakened by the smoke alarm. Oscar ran to the main floor of the home and fled through a rear door to a neighbor's house, where he banged on the door and shouted that his house was on fire and that his family was trapped inside, Piringer said.

There was at least one working smoke alarm in the house, Carr said, but it was unclear whether the mother, grandmother and younger boy were also awakened by it.

Officials said there was a Christmas tree in the basement and a religious shrine in the living room, but it was not clear whether the lights on the tree were on or candles in the shrine were burning at the time the fire started. The house was destroyed; Piringer estimated the damage at $250,000 to $350,000.

Officials said firefighters found Paula Curiel and Adam inside a bedroom of the ranch-style home. Adam's body was found under the bed. Curiel Garcia was found near the living room/dining area, where Piringer said the fire appeared to have started.

The mother and grandmother were pronounced dead at the scene, officials said. Adam, a student at Sequoyah Elementary School, was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Piringer said that Oscar was treated at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. His respiratory passages were singed, Piringer said. Piringer said Oscar's father lives in the area.

Carr said it was not clear why fire-related deaths have increased in Montgomery. In the District, there have been about 10 such deaths this year, the same number as in previous years, fire officials said. In Fairfax County, there have been fewer than 10, similar to previous years.

In Montgomery, "there have been a number of causes for the fires, but most alarming is the number of multiple fatalities," Carr said. "The odd thing is that in many of these cases, the smoke alarms worked" but for some reason people did not respond to them, he added.

Carr said it is important for people to have a working smoke alarm and evacuation plan. In some instances, he added, residents may not hear or adequately react to smoke alarms.

Nine of Montgomery's blazes this year claimed more than one life. A woman and her three children were killed in a fire at their home in Burtonsville in June, and in May an elderly couple died in a fire at their home in Kensington.

Staff writer Steve Hendrix and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company