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Baldwin apartment fire leaves 30 homeless

| Thursday, Oct. 2, 2003

Brandi Osborne watched as firefighters sprayed water into the hole torn through her apartment roof.

"Everything's totally gone," said the mother of four, barely speaking above a whisper.

A blaze Wednesday morning in Osborne's building in the Green Meadows complex in Baldwin Borough forced 30 people -- including 17 children -- out of their homes. A grease fire Tuesday night in a first-floor apartment below Osborne's might have kindled yesterday's blaze, according to preliminary investigations. Two firefighters suffered minor burns in the earlier blaze. No other injuries were reported.

The roof in Osborne's seven-unit building was partially collapsed, windows were blown out and a corner of the red-brick structure was charred. The apartment where Osborne lived with her children, ages 1 to 12, was destroyed. All the apartments sustained smoke, fire and water damage.

Yesterday's blaze spread to an adjoining building, causing smoke damage. Jim Zapf, manager of the 1,071-unit apartment complex, estimated the damage at between $250,000 and $350,000. The complex is home to about 2,000 people, roughly 10 percent of the borough's population.

Zapf said he's working to locate displaced residents in vacant apartments in the complex. Those residents, from both damaged buildings, spent last night in a hotel, Zapf said.

The Red Cross is supplying food, shelter, clothing and other items to the residents. Zapf said he's also inquiring about donations from local food pantries.

Preliminary investigations indicate that heat from the earlier blaze might have been trapped inside the wall or the grease fire might have re-ignited, said Curt Neill, assistant chief of Baldwin Emergency Medical Service.

A teenage boy left french fries cooking in a first-floor apartment at 5320 Keeport Road, sparking the first blaze about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The boy apparently forgot about the fries, left with his family, then returned to find the apartment filled with smoke. Firefighters evacuated residents in that building, but allowed residents in an adjoining building at 5322 Keeport, where the gas had been shut off, to stay.

After firefighters doused the blaze, largely containing damage to the first-floor dwelling, neighbors saw smoke pouring out of the building at 6:20 yesterday morning, authorities said. Five fire companies responded, extinguishing the second blaze by 11 a.m., authorities said.

"When I heard there was another fire, I put on my shoes and booked up the steps. I saw the flames shooting out of the roof and I cried so hard," said Venessa Lammert, 19, who lived in a bottom-floor apartment at 5320 Keeport Road with her mother, Patricia, and stepfather, Thomas Grady.

Lammert, who works as a cashier at Wal-Mart, and her family hope to salvage some of the belongings from their home, which sustained extensive water and smoke damage. Her only clothes left were those she was wearing, she said.

After receiving blankets and clothes from the Red Cross, Osborne said, "I'm taking it step by step. I'm figuring out what to do next."

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