Old Park Heights Academy burns 6, including 5 city firefighters, hurt in arson blaze

May 03, 1994|By Melody Simmons and Scott Higham | Melody Simmons and Scott Higham,Sun Staff Writers

Six people, including five firefighters, were injured today during an intentionally set fire that destroyed the old Park Heights Street Academy in Northwest Baltimore.

No one was seriously injured, however, as firefighters struggled to put out the fire that burned for about two hours through the two-story, red brick building at 3901 Park Heights Ave., The vacant school, which until it closed five years ago because of financial difficulties, had been the city's only black, private secondary school.

The five injured firefighters were taken to Mercy Hospital. A woman by-stander was treated for smoke inhalation at Sinai Hospital.

A Fire Department spokesman said one firefighter was quickly released from Mercy, but four others were being treated today for burns to the neck, ears, and back and cuts to an eye and on a foot. One firefighter sprained a foot.

Overall, about 125 firefighters, on 40 pieces of equipment, were summoned to the fire.

The first of three alarms was turned in at 7:51 a.m. Firefighters had the blaze under control shortly after 10 a.m. Residents said the vacant building was a favorite hang-out for drug dealers.

Investigators said the blaze began in the rear of the building on the second floor.

"It was obviously started by someone," said Battalion Chief Hector Torres. What appeared to be intentionally set fires were found in several spots, he said.

He said the fire destroyed the building, which totaled about 8,000 square feet, causing an estimated $325,000 in damage.

The three-year college preparatory school was established in 1979 as an alternative for students who didn't want to attend the city's public school system. Administrators decided to close the academy before the 1989-90 school year after private donations dropped off. Neighbors said today that after the academy closed, the building was seriously damaged by vandals and more recently had been inhabited by drug dealers.

When the school closed, "the guys took crow bars and broke in and stole everything -- Xerox machines, typewriters, everything that wasn't nailed down," said Elaine Gallop, who has lived in the Park Heights community for 15 years.

"We told [the police] this fire was going to happen because the drug addicts were sleeping in there," she said.

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