Two explosions caused by natural gas and a four-alarm fire destroyed a fabric and canvas firm in southeast Baltimore early today, putting at least 25 people out of work.
Just after 1:30 a.m., residents of the 300 block of S. Lehigh St., about three blocks south of the firm, reported an explosion.
Fire Department spokesman Capt. Hector Torres said an investigation is under way to determine "what caused what. We do know there was a gas leak and BG&E workers shut off the gas early this morning."
He said about $425,000 damage was done to the structure and contents. There were no injuries.
When firefighters arrived, the roof and east wall of the A.L. Robertson Co. at 325 S. Kresson St. near Bank Street were blown apart and flames were erupting from the interior of the one-story cinder block building.
Firefighters from stations nearest the fire reported seeing heavy smoke and flames over the 300 block of S. Kresson as they left their firehouses.
Police Officer Annette Guarino, of the Southeastern District, said the flames were more than 100 feet high when she arrived minutes after the first explosion.
"The flames were really way up there," she said.
Within minutes of the first alarm at 1:38 a.m., thousands of feet of fire hose stretched from pumper trucks as far away as a dozen blocks from the building that houses the Robertson Co.'s offices and warehouse.
A second alarm was sounded at 1:43 a.m.; a third at 1:49 a.m., and the fourth at 2:01 a.m.
The fire was declared under control at 3:46 a.m.
The building was unoccupied when the first explosion occurred. It explosion blew the east wall of the building onto the tracks that run behind it.
Debris -- including huge chunks of cinder blocks -- fell on two sections of railroad tracks, closing the line for several hours.
As more than 125 firefighters on foot and in three aerial towers battled the blaze from the front, the back and the roofs of two adjoining warehouses, another explosion at 2:10 a.m. ripped the west wall apart and filled Kresson Street with large chunks of cinder block and other debris.
Firefighters and spectators ran for cover behind fire engines as pieces of cinder block, wood and glass shot across Kresson Street onto parking lots 100 feet away.
One firefighter ducked behind a fire truck to avoid flying concrete.
"I heard a rumbling sound and knew it was going to go," he said.
David Bullock, president and part-owner of the 35-year-old firm, said the building is heated by several natural gas heaters suspended from the ceiling.
Mr. Bullock said the firm employs about 25 people. It makes fabric and canvas products for commercial use and for the federal government.
The fire finished off what was left of the building. Two adjoining warehouses received smoke damage and some fire damage to the roofs.
Police detoured traffic for blocks around during the fire.
Some people along the block said today they were awakened by sirens on fire engines but did not hear an explosion.
"It must have been muffled because I didn't hear a thing and I'm about a half-block away from the place that burned down," said Arthur J. Moskel of 331 S. Lehigh St.
"Me neither . . . I must have slept through it," said Josephine Raskinski, another Lehigh Street resident.