Two boys--brothers, ages 5 and 10--died early yesterday in a fire at their family's Odenton home that officials said was started by a candle being used for light because the power had been shut off a day earlier for nonpayment.
The blaze, which struck just as the rains of Hurricane Floyd hit the Chapelgate neighborhood, was a small one, leaving only moderate damage to the duplex where Charles and Dawn Feick lived with their four sons.
Yet it quickly took the lives of the oldest and youngest boys in the close-knit family--Charles and Joshua--despite futile attempts by their mother and a neighbor to reach them.
Family members, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, were being aided by the Red Cross.
One of the other children had lit the candle sometime before 3:50 a.m. when he woke in a dark room as the rain came down, fire officials said. They said the home's smoke detectors did not work because there was no electricity to power them. Fire officials said the older model detectors were not designed with battery backups.
"They're the nicest boys, very studious. They always called everybody 'sir' and 'ma'am,' " said Frank Neveroski, 66, who with his wife shares a white clapboard duplex on Cadbury Drive with the Feicks.
Whether it was playing ball or make-believe adventure games, the boys always played together, he said. "They travel as a group."
Neveroski, who spoke later with Dawn Feick, 31, said the boys' father was working the night shift as a security guard when the fire broke out.
Anne Arundel County fire officials said the blaze apparently started in a second-floor front bedroom where at least one of the boys was sleeping. The four boys--including John, 8, and Stephen, 7--had gone to sleep in their mother's room; sometime in the night, she put one back in his bedroom, fire officials said. When the boy awoke in the middle of the night, he apparently lighted a candle so he could see, but it was knocked over and started the fire, officials said.
The boy woke his mother to tell her about the fire.
"She went to see where the fire was, but by that time the smoke was unbelievable," Neveroski said. Dawn Feick got her two middle sons out of the house. When she tried to rescue the other two, she couldn't.
"She made several attempts to get back in the house," said fire Battalion Chief John M. Scholz. "It just wasn't possible."
Neveroski said he was awakened by one of the boys knocking on his door. It was raining hard, and the child seemed very scared.
Neveroski said he entered the Feick home and walked up the stairs toward the bedroom. He said he got within 10 feet before having to turn back. "I just couldn't get past the flames and the smoke," he said.
Scholz said firefighters got the blaze under control in 20 minutes. "It was a very quick rescue," he said. Firefighters got the boys out of the house and were trying to resuscitate them within four minutes of their arrival.
Charles and Joshua were declared dead shortly after their arrival at North Arundel Hospital in Glen Burnie. Dawn Feick and the two other boys were examined there and were released a short time later.
Brenda Pettigrew, a spokeswoman for Baltimore Gas and Electric, said the Feicks' power was shut off because they had failed to pay their bill.
She said that when a bill is one month past due, the customer gets a notice warning that the electricity will be turned off in 15 days unless arrangements are made with the power company.
She said that the Feicks' 15-day warning period expired on Sept. 7. On Sept. 10, the company called to say the family was in immediate danger of losing its electric power. Pettigrew said the family did not respond. It was only after the power was cut off on Wednesday that the Feicks called to see what they had to do to have it restored, she said.
"We're always saddened when there is a loss of life, but we give them an opportunity to call and make arrangements well in advance," said Pettigrew. She said that the power company will help customers in financial straits get in touch with local welfare agencies or charities to find ways to keep their electric service.