6-alarm fire destroys warehouse Arson suspected in blaze near fort

January 02, 1996|By Richard Irwin | Richard Irwin,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Howard Libit contributed to this article.

A spectacular six-alarm fire last night destroyed a warehouse near Fort McHenry that had been touted as the site for a museum honoring European immigrants who entered America through the port of Baltimore in the late 1800s.

Police said they have chased homeless people and children out of the building over the past several days and suspect arson. The warehouse was more than 100 years old.

"Anyone could get into the building and start a fire," said a Southern District policeman.

One firefighter was injured slightly when he cut his hand.

The blaze was reported at 8:32 p.m. Huge columns of thick smoke poured from the boarded windows of the four-story building for a half-hour as the fire built inside. The floors contained flamable creosote.

When flames burst through the windows, they shot nearly 100 feet in the air and raced from one end of the building to the other.

The intense heat drove away onlookers and forced firefighters to turn their faces from the flames. Firetrucks had to be watered down or moved several yards from the building.

In less than 30 minutes, the fire went to six alarms and the Fire Department put out two calls requesting extra manpower and apparatus, said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres.

At least 50 pieces of equipment and more than 150 firefighters battled the blaze from four sides and from an overpass leading to Fort McHenry. Miles of hose choked the streets.

As tons of water were poured onto the burning building, large embers flew into the air and landed on nearby railroad tank cars containing hydrocarbon substances with low flash points. Firefighters kept the tank cars wet to prevent fires or explosions.

The four-story warehouse, once used to store Maryland tobacco destined for ports in Europe, is owned by CSX Transportation of Jacksonville, Fla.

In 1993, Ronald Zimmerman, 68, a local real estate broker, led efforts to turn the warehouse into a museum. "It's a shame that we lost the building, with all its originality in the floors and the actual railroad tracks that are still there," Mr. Zimmerman said.

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