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Baltimore fire kills seven children

A fire that engulfed a row house, killing seven children and two adults, was caused by candles they were burning for light because their electricity had been cut off, fire officials said Sunday.

A 21-year-old woman dropped her 2-year-old son to safety from a second-floor window and then leaped herself, breaking her ankle, fire officials said.

The only other survivor was a 14-year-old boy who told investigators he was awakened by the heat and screamed to wake the others upstairs. All of the dead were found upstairs.

Investigators think the fire late Saturday was started in the downstairs living room by candles left burning on a table beside a sofa bed where the boy slept, said fire department Capt. Paul Geoghegan.

There were no smoke detectors.

Power was shut off Oct. 11 after the electric bill for the row house had mounted to $1,400, said Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. spokesman Kevin Thornton.

The home in one of the city's poorer neighborhoods apparently also had no heat. It had a gas stove, but the oil furnace required electricity, he said.

Thornton said state funds that help the poor pay for utilities contributed $384 to the electric bill.

The company offered to allow the bill to be paid off over a one- to four-year period, but the residents never responded, Thornton said.

Some of the children, who ranged in age from 8 months to 11 years, were found crouched on the floor or hiding under clothes and blankets, Geoghegan said.

Also killed were a 24-year-old man found at the top of the stairs and a 28-year-old woman.