3 businesses burn smoke alarms city

May 18, 1993|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,Staff Writer

An intense multi-alarm blaze wiped out three businesses last night in Northeast Baltimore and sent a cloud of smoke drifting over downtown to trigger other fire alarms.

The "smoke scare" over a large part of the city resulted from an enormous cloud of smoke drifting over the downtown area and East Baltimore on a light breeze from the fire scene in the 3400 block of Belair Road, where a neighborhood supermarket, shoe store, and furniture and appliance business were destroyed.

Damage to the three stores and their merchandise was estimated at more than $1.5 million.

"That's my life savings, everything in here," said Herschel Gloger, pointing to his Savon supermarket .

He gestured with his hand toward the missing front windows and blackened shell of a 6,000-square-foot business that had been filled to the brim in anticipation of a Memorial Day shopping boom.

The business was started in 1970 by his late father, with whom he moved more than 30 years ago from the former Soviet Union.

He stood alongside Delores Silverschlag, whose husband, David, started David's Shoe Store more than four decades ago.

"We fight; we'll have to start over again," she said. "We have to make a living and we owe it to our customers who have been loyal to us for so long."

Also destroyed was Magic Rent to Own, a business that sold and rented furniture, appliance and electronic items.

An hour and a half after the first alarm, flames were still visible in the store, which the neighbors said had opened recently at a site formerly occupied by a Rite-Aid outlet.

Capt. Hector Torres, a Fire Department spokesman, said a single engine company was dispatched to investigate the first report of a blaze at 9:44 p.m., and immediately called for additional men and equipment.

About 100 firefighters and 30 pieces of equipment -- equivalent to the turnout for a three-alarm blaze -- battled the flames.

One minor injury was reported. Firefighter Harry Sult was released after treatment for minor burns to his neck and ears at the burn unit of Francis Scott Key Medical Center in Southeast Baltimore, Captain Torres said.

The smoke prompted fire alarms or telephone calls from the Mercy Medical Center and Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. building, and several neighborhoods east of the downtown area that still were shrouded by smoke at midnight.

Firefighters were dispatched to investigate each report, to assure that the smoke was not the result of another blaze.

"It's a smoke scare," Captain Torres said.

Effects of the smoke were felt even at the fire headquarters near City Hall, where dispatchers opened doors and windows in search of fresh air.

Captain Torres said investigators, at first glance, thought the fire had begun in the rear of the supermarket at the north end of the row and spread to the other businesses. The cause was not known early this morning.

"We were very close -- like a family," Mrs. Silverschlag said of her grocer neighbor.

Both she and Mr. Gloger, a former U.S. public health service administrator who joined his father in the business five years ago and then inherited it, said they had insurance.

But they doubted it could cover all of their losses and the effort they had put into building up and maintaining their popular neighborhood businesses.

And Mrs. Silverschlag wondered where the many elderly shoppers in the neighborhood could go to buy their food.

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