Myrna Contreros-Duarte and her 9-month-old baby Glenny were the only people home when a fire sparked in their cramped West Joppa Road apartment.
Just days later, she is sitting on a neighbor's couch in a pink shirt, sniffling occasionally as, across the room, her daughter naps in a crib surrounded by shopping bags and boxes of what little they still own and, thanks to the kindness of relative strangers, so much more.
Contreros-Duarte, a Honduran immigrant, and her family of six were among 12 displaced by a one-alarm fire caused by an electrical spark late last Monday morning. The fire was in the first-floor annex of the building, which houses several other tenants.
Contreros-Duarte, who speaks little English, said Friday she was doing "OK," though tired. Her family split last week between a Red Cross-provided room at the Ramada Inn and Nicole and Jim Risser's home just down Mockingbird Lane.
Risser saw and smelled the smoke Monday morning.
"It was like the great Virginia swamp fire," she said.
Residents, Risser said, had filed code complaints before about electrical wiring outside home, listed in a police report on the fire as belonging to Lutherville-Timonium resident Raul Rodriguez. The night before the fire, Risser said, Contreros-Duarte tried to contact Rodriguez about a circuit breaker that had been sparking.
By Friday, West Towson residents had responded with an outpouring of generosity. Charm City Run donated shoes. West Towson Elementary School staff started a collection. Neighbors paid a discounted bill for a week at the Towson University Marriott Conference Hotel. Another resident offered space in her home for two weeks after that.
But beyond short-term concerns, Nicole Risser said the family needs long-term solutions.
"Nobody had anything. People had gotten up, gone to work and everything is in that house," she said.
That means gift cards and cash to buy groceries and ultimately, a place in Towson to stay, where two school-age children can continue to attend West Towson Elementary School and where the family can still get to jobs in Towson. Contreros-Duarte does overnight janitorial work.
But since the family doesn't have a credit history and generally uses cash, it's hard to find an apartment or home willing to rent to a large family.
"In some ways that's what that little space provided," Risser said. "It was kind of chopped up, but it could house everybody who needed to be housed. Replacing that is going to be very very hard, so that's our challenge."
Besides gift cards and cash, Risser said the family is also looking for clothes, size 8 men's shoes and household items. Donations can be dropped off at 707 Morningside Drive.