A raging fire that destroyed two empty warehouses at Fort Holabird in Southeast Baltimore yesterday was "very, very suspicious" in origin and may have been set, said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres.
Investigators were still trying late yesterday to determine the cause of the five-alarm fire that burned down buildings once used as centers to train U.S. spies. Nobody was hurt in the fire, which began at 11:20 p.m. Thursday and ended about 2 a.m. yesterday.
The windowless buildings, which had many uses over the years, stood next to former Army barracks and an intake center. They also were depots for the country's top-secret documents at one time.
The warehouses in the 6500 block of Detroit Ave. are owned by the federal government, Torres said. The fire caused about $500,000 damage.
"I have no idea what started it," Torres said. "We're suspicious somebody may have set this."
The two corrugated steel buildings, which sat almost on the Baltimore County line, were used mostly by drug addicts, prostitutes and the homeless in recent times, neighbors said.
"They're down, and to be honest with you, I'm glad they're down," said Gladys Cimaglia, who lives near the warehouses and is president of the St. Helena Community Association. "It's for the best, even though there's a lot of history down here when it comes to war and Army barracks."
The barracks, which were built in 1917, were later converted into homes and offices. The buildings held a mystique in the Dundalk neighborhood and were said to have contained mob figures and Watergate burglars. News reports said that E. Howard Hunt Jr., who was sentenced to two years in jail for his participation in Watergate, spent a few weeks at Fort Holabird after his sentencing.
When the buildings housed the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School in the 1960s and early 1970s, a training area was modeled to look like a Vietnamese village, reports indicated.
Subsequently, Fort Holabird became the site of war protests and pickets. After the spy school was relocated to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., in 1973, the buildings became home to the Investigative Records and Repository for the National Security Administration. It also was the operational headquarters of the Defense Investigative Service, which conducted personnel investigations for the Pentagon.