Standing before the charred, burned-out remains of her two-story row house on Riggs Road NE last night, Frances Newman spoke softly, calmy of the disaster -- a fire that touched five generations of her family, critically injuring one of the oldest and killing one of the youngest.
"I was in the kitchen, singing and cleaning the oven . . . There was an explosion . . . Thick black smoke and then flames," the 64-year-old woman recalled, as though it had happened to someone else.
But then she is asked of little Tony Newman, her 5-year-old great-grand-son, and she looks away, shuddering in the piercing wind. Cars pass by, a street lamp reflects off tears in her eyes.
"My baby, my baby. My baby's dead. I raised him. He was attached to me. There was nothing I could do."
Frances Newman was in the kitchen with Tony's sister, Telepher, 2, at 3 p.m. yesterday when the fire started. Within 30 minutes, firefighters had extinquished the blaze, which started in the basement and caused $50,000 damage to the brick structure she has lived in for 20 years.
"I heard the explosion and saw the smoke, and I ran outside. There was already flames coming out the upstairs windows, But then I remembered [Telepher] who was in her high chair in the kitchen. I ran back in and got her, and I heard Tony calling me from where he was playing downstairs . . . but I couldn't get to him, the flames were too high already.
"I heard my mother calling me from upstairs, too, but I couldn't get to her either. Lord have mercy"
Frances Newman's mother, 84-year-old Martha White, Tony's great-great-grandmother, was rescued by firefighters and taken to Washington Hospital Center for treatment of burns and smoke inhalation. She was in critical condition last night.
Tony was taken to the hospital center, but was dead on arrival.
As Frances Newman spoke, friends and relatives came in groups, stroking and consoling her.
"We have so many good neighbors. They've all offered to put us up," said Newman's husband Ernest, a cabdriver who said he first heard news of the fire while listening to his car radio.
"I rushed right over, but it was too late. Then I went over to get Tony's mother," Cynthia Newman, who works in a nearby laundry.
Ernest Newman said Tony, his mother and his sister was staying at the Riggs Road house until they found a place to live. Tony was a first grader at nearby LaSalle Elementary School.
"Tony was a good little kid, pretty smart and quick to learn things. . . He liked to draw a lot, he used to go down to the basement to draw all the time," Newman said.
"I don't know how the fire started. We didn't even keep any matches in the house.
"We'll miss him. It's still a dream."