A 41-year-old Riverdale sculptor, wearing only his underwear in the early-morning chill yesterday, stood in his front yard yelling at his wife and two children to jump from the second story of their home, which had gone up in flames about 4:30 a.m.
When they didn't respond, he tried to reenter the house through the front door, but intense heat stopped him. Next, he tried to remove a large ladder from the top of his car, but an injury he suffered when he had jumped from the house prevented him from handling it.
All Maceo Jeffries could do then was watch his home at 5715 66th Ave. go up in flames, killing his wife Carolyn, 39, his son Maceo Jr., 17, and his 2-year-old daughter Maureen.
"I heard the baby crying as soon as I hit the ground," Jeffries said yesterday in his room at Prince George's General Hospital, where he is recovering from a separated shoulder and smoke inhalation. "When she stopped crying, I knew they were gone."
Jeffries said he smelled smoke at about 4:30 a.m. and that "there was dense smoke and fire" in the hallway and the stairwell. "I just tore everything out," he said, referring to the bedroom window he jumped from.
He said he did not know for sure how the fire started. Prince George's fire officials believe it began in the living room. They are investigating the cause.
There was no smoke detector in the house, according to Capt. Jim Mundy. An earlier alert might have saved the family, he said.
Mundy said the fire was so hot that the paint melted off the walls downstairs. Investigators said the blaze did about $75,000 damage.
Included in the damage were a number of pieces of sculpture by Jeffries, a Pennsylvania native. Jeffries worked as a draftsman after he got out of the Army in 1965, until 1976 when he decided to work full time for himself. The first commission he got was for a bronze plaque in the executive offices at the World Trade Center in Baltimore. He has also done a number of statues for area churches.
But he always found time to make things for his family. A tiny portrait in soap, for example, was a gift to his wife.
"I can't bring them back," Jeffries said of his family. "That kind of joy I'm going to put in art so I can share it with other people."
A neighbor of the Jeffries, Rosa Exum, said that the quiet, close-knit neighborhood was in shock over the fire. Only yesterday, she said, another neighbor was sharing with her pictures of the family taken New Year's Day. Exum said that Carolyn Jeffries was a former cashier and had stayed at home to raise her youngest child. Maceo Jr. graduated from Bladensburg High School last year and was working, Exum said.