Massive Fire Strikes Downtown Baltimore

By Alex Dominquez | December 8, 2010

A five-alarm blaze that broke out in Baltimore’s adult-entertainment district on Monday afternoon, spread quickly and sent thick smoke billowing throughout downtown was brought under control in the early evening, city fire officials said.

Battalion Chief Kevin Cartwright, a spokesman for the city fire department, said Monday’s fire started about 4 p.m. in a three-story building in the area known as The Block, then spread to five or six structures. It was brought under control at about 7 p.m. and downgraded to two alarms, he said.

Firefighters focused on hotspots as the evening progressed, saturating the area to make sure all hidden fire was extinguished. Firefighters will be at the location throughout the night.

Cartwright said the cause of the fire was under investigation. No injuries were reported, and there was no damage estimate Monday evening.

More than 100 firefighters, paramedics, command and support staff battled the blaze.

Gray smoke had billowed out of at least one of the buildings, blanketing downtown; firefighters on ladders and cranes sprayed water onto the flames.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said city buildings near the fire would be inspected for smoke damage.

Fire Chief James S. Clack said that four buildings on Baltimore Street did not appear to have sprinklers, which were not required by the city at the time of their construction, The Baltimore Sun reported.

Joanna Trela, 38, a law firm office manager who works on the 27th floor of a nearby building, said she looked out the window and spotted the fire after an attorney in her firm suggested that something was wrong with the ventilation system.

“We smelled it,” Trela said. The fire had her temporarily stranded. “The most frustrating part is, they shut down the parking garage, so nobody in our building can leave, so we’re all kind of hanging out,” Trela said at one point.

Alex LeBlanc, a management consultant who works a few blocks away, was pulling into a parking garage when he saw the thick clouds of smoke.

“I haven’t seen smoke like that before. From three blocks away, it was just black,” LeBlanc said.

The Block is a neighborhood of strip clubs with gaudy lights, including Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. Some of the venues are historical theaters. The area is located between Baltimore City Hall and the Inner Harbor.

The area is no stranger to fires. The Baltimore fire of 1904, which destroyed much of the city, also wiped out The Block, which then had offices and clothing stores, The Sun reported. A movie house complex was built at 404 E. Baltimore Street, where Monday’s fire is believed to have started at the Gayety Show World.

Fires broke out in the area in 1935 and in the late 1960s.

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