"Nell . . . Angeline . . . Catherine . . . Margaret . . . Dorothy . . . Ethel . . ."
Squinting in the bright sunshine of a lovely spring morning, Lee Pikser haltingly read a list of 10 names as she stood yesterday in front of a fire-gutted, green-fronted house in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Northwest Washington.
Pikser, a leader of a senior citizen group called the Gray Panthers, was one of a small group that had come to 1715 Lamont St. NW to remember the 10 women -- outpatients from St. Elizabeths Hospital -- who perished in the terror of one of Washington's worst fires a year ago.
They chose the anniversary, Pikser added, to remind Washingtonians that those who live as public wards in group homes should not be forgotten or ignored by society.
About 60 persons, more reporters and television technicians than participants, attended the ceremony.
As reporters arrived, Alan Grip, the D.C. government's chief media spokesman, handed out a four-page "status report" stressing that Mayor Marion Barry was just three months in office when the tragedy occurred and that he moved decisively to prevent a recurrence.
By last month, the report said, 329 of the city's 335 known group homes had complied with life-safety regulations and the other six soon will be certified. It claimed progress in other areas, such as providing adequate insurance coverage.
A year afterward, the two-story brick and stucco house at 1715 Lamont St. stands as a stark reminder of what happened -- a vacant, gutted hulk on a narrow tree-lined street of plain row houses.
The front windows of 1715 are boarded over with slabs of raw plywood, but tongues of black soot reach upward from behind them. A real estate sign proclaims the place for sale -- the asking price, about $300,000, a spokesman for the broker said yesterday, with no takers.
"Everytime I walk by, it's like a haunted house," said Karin Scheire, who helped care for the survivors on the night of the fire and who attended yesterday's ceremony. "One time when I came past, a piece of the plywood fell down. It was spooky. Look at that, it's disgusting."
Aside from the plywood window coverings, nothing has been done to the house since the fire, the Rev. Phillip Wheaton said.
Wheaton, an inactive Episcopal priest who was one of the first to reach the fire scene from his nearby home, said the owners of the old group home just want to profit from the sale and get out.
"One year has passed, Lord, and we have not forgotten," he intoned in an opening prayer yesterday. "We remember [the victims] with a sense of responsibility and guilt." They were, he recalled, good neighbors who are missed.
David A. Clarke, who represents the neighborhood on the D.C. City Council, said the memorial service was an inappropriate time for politicians to recount the reforms they have achieved since the fire raised their consciousness.
But James Buford, who took over Monday as the new head of the D.C. Department of Human Services, used his first public appearance to list such achievements and conclude there would be "little chance of recurrence." And Carmine Del Balzo, the city fire marshal, read a paper listing the Fire Department's stepped-up enforcement procedures.
Pikser, the Gray Panthers' leader, did not contest the achievements listed by the city officials. But she observed to a reporter that there still has been no enforcement of a 1977 law that requires the city to monitor the care and food and other aspects of living conditions of group home residents.
"We mustn't let them out of mind," she said.