FREDERICK -- A 29-year-old gunman was believed to have perished yesterday in a fire that broke out in a liquor store during his standoff with police and engulfed a Frederick shopping complex.
The gunman, identified by police as James C. Douglas of Frederick, was known to local law enforcement officers and had spoken with police by telephone before the fire broke out in Jim's Liquors and spread to eight other businesses in Antietam Village Center on Opossumtown Pike.
Police said Douglas entered the liquor store and, at gunpoint, ordered the owner to get out. The owner called police from a neighboring store about 12:30 p.m.
The gunman fired at least two shots at police during the standoff, according to Lt. Thomas Chase, a spokesman for the Frederick Police Department. Police smelled something burning as they tried to negotiate with the suspect, partially by telephone, and soon a fire was raging, Chase said.
Police heard explosions they assumed to be bottles of liquor combusting in the blaze, Chase said. No one else was inside the store, which was surrounded by police, Chase said.
As the fire spread, police evacuated 10 to 15 people from neighboring stores. The shopping center, which had several vacant store spaces, was also home to a dry-cleaning business, bank, health club, sub shop, doughnut shop and hair salon, according to information posted on the City of Frederick Web site.
Close to 100 firefighters were still at the scene last night, dousing embers and flare-ups from the blaze, which at its height sent dark clouds of pungent smoke over the city. Aside from the gunman, who was believed dead, no one was injured in the blaze, Chase said.
"It was the entire building engulfed," Chase said, adding that he was surprised at "how quickly the fire became intense and how quickly the fire spread."
Investigators planned to search the ruins today for the remains of the gunman and attempt to determine the cause of the blaze, Chase said. Firefighters were to build a fence around the building last night.
Police had last encountered Douglas during a local traffic stop six to eight months ago, Chase said. His record showed a 2002 conviction for marijuana possession in Frederick County.
Douglas' mother, who lives in the Washington area, was notified last night of her son's presumed death, Chase said.
Jim's Liquors had operated at the site since the 1970s, Chase said.
Frederick resident Jim Conway spent all afternoon surveying the scene after growing curious about the smoke, which he could see from the south side of town. He said his family occasionally patronized the Dunkin' Donuts and the hair salon in the shopping center.
"You just stand in awe, wondering what kind of mind would do something like that," said Conway, 45, adding that his wife would "be floored" when she saw the devastation.
The manager of a nearby Italian restaurant said such crimes were unusual in Frederick, a city proud of its quaint charm.
"It's just kind of a small town, and when something big happens, everyone takes notice," said John Haak, manager of Lintini's Pizzeria.