HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. — Flames had already began spreading through the third floor of her house on South Washington Street in Havre de Grace before Dolores Branning even became aware of the fire.
Moments earlier, her eight-year-old grandson had asked her if she smelled anything, before ducking upstairs for a moment and then returning.
He says, ‘There’s smoke in Mommy’s bedroom.’ I said, ‘There better not be,’ Branning recalled. “So I go up the steps and I get to the third floor steps and all I do is see these flames and I go running back down the steps. I grab the kids. I grab my phone. I call 911, and he had found some matches in his mother’s room.”
It only took firefighters about five minutes to extinguish the fire, but the damage, estimated at $25,000, will force Branning, her daughter and three grandchildren to find somewhere else to live for now.
Even though it doesn’t appear the young boy may set the fire intentionally, he can remain in his mother’s custody, but will be referred to the Department of Juvenile Services.
“This is a case of where we the investigators believe this was more of a juvenile fire play incident where it’s just curiosity,” said Sr. Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver Alkire. “However, that’s where we want to intervene. This is a case where we want to see the child get the help that he may need.”
It’s an intervention, which comes too late to spare the family hardship after child’s play put all of their lives in jeopardy.
“They were like wooden matches, and they burned too fast, and he was just throwing them… and my house is ruined,” said Branning. “Right now, he acts like he did nothing wrong so I don’t know what else to say.”
In the aftermath of the fire, investigators found the home had no working smoke alarms, because someone had removed the batteries and failed to replace them.