Building consumed by arson

June 15, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

A spectacular fire that destroyed a West Baltimore mattress company billowed smoke eastward for miles and forced the evacuation of a city block for more than four hours yesterday afternoon.

No one was injured in the four-alarm blaze, which erupted before 3 p.m. in a mattress-filled storage room at International Furniture and Bedding Inc. at 1303 N. Monroe St. The fire, which was ruled arson, was under control by 4:08 p.m., said Battalion Chief Hector Torres, a city fire department spokesman.

Smoke from the fire was visible over much of downtown Baltimore, and the scent of burning wood was noticeable along North Calvert Street, more than a mile from the fire. Although the fire did not spread to adjacent homes and businesses, thick black smoke obscured the sun for more than hour, witnesses said.

"I was in my kitchen making some Kool-Aid, and all of a sudden it got really dark, dark like night," said Anna Pennix, who lives in the 1800 block of Lorman St., around the corner from the mattress manufacturer. "All of a sudden, my whole house was filled with smoke."

Mr. Torres would not say how the blaze -- which caused $350,000 worth of damage -- was set. No arrests had been made last night.

International Furniture employed 21 people in the 27,000-square-foot, one-story building between Laurens and Lorman streets, said Bernadette Hutchins, one of the owners.

Ms. Hutchins was in her Canton home when an alarm company called and told her of the fire that engulfed the business that she, her husband and a partner have owned for about 14 months.

"We were looking for another building, so we've definitely got something in the works," Ms. Hutchins said, standing across from her business. "But the next building will have a sprinkler system."

The white-brick building apparently was built in the 1890s, and at one time was a stable for the city waste collection bureau, said Jack Warf, the company's project manager.

Mr. Warf and six others were in the building when the fire erupted, Mr. Torres said. They tried to douse the fire -- which leapt from mattress to mattress -- with fire extinguishers.

Dwight Denson, 35, was one of the employees who grabbed a fire extinguisher.

"I thought it was the second coming," he said. "We tried to put it out, but it cooked up too fast and the flames were too high."

More than 40 trucks and 125 firefighters battled the blaze.

Because the fire broke out on the hottest day of the year -- the temperature was 96 degrees when it was reported at 2:46 p.m. -- firefighters were rotated in 15- to 20-minute shifts throughout the afternoon.

"On a day like today, it's . . . a lot of work," said Lt. Carl Bull, one of the firefighters who donned 100 pounds of gear and clothing. He said temperatures inside the building probably reached more than 600 degrees.

The fire was fueled by an inventory of up to 1,000 mattresses, many of them made of foam.

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