Afternoon fire destroys 2 commercial buildings

March 06, 1995|By Marcia Myers and Douglas Birch | Marcia Myers and Douglas Birch,Sun Staff Writers

Arson was blamed for a blaze that began above a boarded Gay Street tire store yesterday afternoon and spread to an adjoining building, destroying a pair of two-story commercial brick structures that occupied half a city block.

More than 120 Baltimore firefighters battled the flames for over PTC an hour before bringing the four-alarm blaze under control. Three firefighters received minor injuries: One bruised a knee, another twisted an ankle and a third suffered smoke inhalation.

None was expected to remain hospitalized overnight, said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres. No one else was injured.

As they stopped at a traffic light yesterday afternoon, several city firefighters sharing a ride to work saw the second-floor windows of Copeland's Tire Shop "just break into flames," said Capt. Ronald Baker of the department's Fire Investigation Bureau.

Captain Baker said several things pointed to an arson fire, and noted that it spread faster than a typical blaze. There was no electric service to the former tire store, ruling out an electric short as the source of ignition. And neighbors reported seeing several youths, ages 10 to 14, running from the scene about the time the fire broke out, he said.

The former store is on the corner of Gay and Chester streets in an East Baltimore neighborhood pockmarked by vacant dwellings and businesses. A pile of used tires was found burning on the second floor.

The fire quickly ignited the wooden roof of the adjoining building, a much larger brick structure with an entrance on North Chester. Some neighbors reported that the Chester Street building had been abandoned for many years, Captain Baker said. But furniture and papers found inside indicated it had been used as an office complex as recently as 1992.

The first alarm came in at 3:19 p.m. A little more than a half-hour later, the roof of the larger structure collapsed. It took until 4:53 p.m. for firefighters to bring the blaze under control.

Although emergency workers did not evacuate the residents of rowhouses surrounding the burning structures, waves of thick black smoke did the job for them -- seeping into homes for blocks and driving neighbors into the streets.

Losses to the two damaged buildings were estimated at $300,000, Chief Torres said.

The firefighter who suffered from smoke-inhalation was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, he said, but was expected to be released last night.

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