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Fire Kills Five, Including Four Youngsters

March 24, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Fire officials were sifting through charred debris trying to discover what caused a ferocious blaze that swept through the basement of foster home, killing five people, including three infants and a toddler.

Frances Walker returned from a church trip to find her home gutted and all her foster children dead except for 9-year-old Maria Walker. The girl was in critical condition Sunday night suffering from smoke inhalation, according to the night administrator at D.C. General Hospital, who refused to give his name.

Intense heat held firefighters at bay when they first arrived at the brick rambler in a quiet suburban area of the city early Sunday, according to Ray Alfred, a fire department spokesman.

″These are very young children. They never had a chance,″ Alfred said. He said the children were in a first-floor bedroom and, overcome by smoke, were unable to escape.

The dead were a 2-year-old boy recently adopted by Walker; a month-old boy; five-month old twins, one boy and one girl; and a 55-year-old man who lived at the house. The man’s body was found in the kitchen, Alfred said.

Officials would not release the names of the victims.

Preliminary investigations indicated the fire may have started near the basement furnace and spread when combustible materials such as paper and paint ignited, Alfred said.

″The fire was very stubborn, and because it was a basement fire it was very difficult getting at it,″ Alfred said. ″To give an idea of how hot it was, when the first firefighters went in with a hose line, a heavy object like a piano or a couch collapsed right through the floor.″

It took about 80 firefighters one hour to control the blaze, which broke out at 12:47 a.m., Alfred said. One firefighter was injured when a piece of burning tar from the house fell onto his face, he said.

″It looked like the whole inside of the building was on fire,″ said Patricia Hale, who lives across the street. ″I saw it from my window and it looked like the whole house was gutted inside.″

Neighbors watched in shock Sunday as firefighters emptied cribs and baby strollers into the front yard.

″She loved those children. I mean she loved them like they were her own,″ said Tawanna Marshall, a neighbor and fellow member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, where Walker was head of the deaconess board and took the children most Sundays.

Dorothy Kennison, head of the city’s family services agency, said Walker was considered one of her best foster parents.

″She takes emergency situations at any hour of the day or night. ... We are just as devastated as everyone else,″ Kennison said.

The fire is the second worst this year in the District of Columbia. On Jan. 26, nine people, including seven Salvadorean immigrants, were killed in a basement fire.

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