The heat from the fireball was so intense, most in the crowd shielded their eyes, then backed away at the urging of a fire official.
Not 9-year-old Danny Hare of Dundalk. He remained as close as allowed, intensely examining the flames as they engulfed the living room mock-up at the fire department's annual Thrill Show yesterday in East Baltimore.
"Do you think they need backup?" Danny asked his mother.
Maybe next time, kid. Two firefighters standing by with a hose quickly turned the blazing room into a cloud of black smoke. But look: A police helicopter has just landed, and the pilot's offering up his seat to anyone who patiently waits in line.
And so it went all day, from live-fire demos to firefighters rappelling down a high-rise wall to free doughnuts and a Dalmatian-themed moon-bounce. Hundreds of fire-helmeted children and families descended on the Baltimore City Fire Academy for its annual kickoff of Fire Prevention Month.
Part of the goal was "to remind the public that once a fire breaks out in your home ... it's time for you to evacuate immediately," said Fire Department spokesman Chief Kevin Cartwright.
There have been 27 fire-related deaths in the city this year, Cartwright said, a slight increase over last year at this time.
Drought-like conditions around the state can lead to brush fires in rural areas, but could also speed up urban fires, according to Battalion Cmdr. Medford Lehrl.
"It does affect fires in the urban areas," he said. "It dries the wood out more ... and tends to make fires go a little faster."
While the precautionary messages were aimed at the adults (do install smoke detectors; don't fall asleep while smoking in bed) the thrills were squarely focused on the kids.
They hitched rides on fire engines with sirens blaring, got a tour of the academy aboard a miniature train and spent plenty of face time with the real-life firefighters they idolize.
Brandon Crites, 5, particularly enjoyed watching his future colleagues enter a burning dwelling through the roof.
"I like it when the man goes up the ladder and when he jumps in," Brandon explained. "I love that."
The child from Perry Hall planned to chat with some professional firefighters, but only under certain conditions.
"If they don't wear the [oxygen] mask, I won't be afraid," he said.
Robert Huffman of Essex said he would follow in the footsteps of his father, a firefighter stationed in Curtis Bay.
The 4th-grader eyed a firetruck-shaped slide but really came to see one thing: "Fire!"
The 9-year-old's face assumed a preternaturally sober cast when asked whether he was ever afraid of the burning stuff.
"I'm afraid to be close up to it, and I'm afraid of lighting it," Robert said. "But I will put it out and I will watch it. Yes, sir."