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Fire strikes Fells Point building a second time

FiresBusinessInner Harbor

More than 100 Baltimore firefighters battled a four-alarm fire Tuesday that routed residents from their homes, closed businesses and shut down several streets in Fells Point throughout the day.

It also raised a few residents' concerns about the neighborhood's third major fire in less than five months.

The latest fire, first reported at 4:25 a.m., further ravaged a five-story building in the 500 block of S. Broadway that had sustained more than $1 million in damage during a five-alarm fire June 11. It once housed a grocery store on the street level but has been unoccupied for more than a year.

The cause of the first fire has not been determined, said Capt. Roman Clark, Fire Department spokesman.

A few weeks ago, fire severely damaged a three-story commercial building with a liquor store on Fleet Street, just off Broadway. Its cause also remains under investigation.

"We have been through this three times now," said Kenya Walter, a Towson resident who works in Fells Point. "I heard about it as soon as I got on the bus this morning and thought it can't be in the same block again, but it was. Three fires in the same neighborhood doesn't sound like a coincidence to me."

She and a co-worker planned to grab a few papers from their office on Fleet Street and work the rest of the day at home.

Firefighters responding to the first alarm Tuesday immediately called for assistance as flames shot through a collapsed roof and thick smoke billowed. The fire quickly went to four alarms and shut down several blocks of Broadway and surrounding cross streets.

Crews, many on towering ladders, saturated the building's exterior. They kept the fire contained to 517 S. Broadway and evacuated adjacent structures, including all the homes in the 500 block of S. Regester St. as a precaution, Clark said.

"We have been able to protect surrounding buildings well," Clark said.

The fire was under control shortly before 10 a.m. No injuries were reported. Most streets reopened by 11 a.m., but about 30 firefighters remained on the scene Tuesday evening "wetting hot spots," Clark said.

The fire may have started at the rear of the building, where some demolition work already was under way from the previous blaze, but it is too early to determine that for certain, Clark said. What remained of the back wall and roof were destroyed Tuesday.

The fire remains under investigation.

Dave Ehlers said he smelled smoke as soon as he set out on his morning jog at about 6:30 a.m. He ran to the Inner Harbor and back and said he was not surprised that the fire still was going strong. He lingered at the scene and took a few photos, before returning to his Fells Point home.

"There is a lot of thick wood inside that building and it's smoldering," he said. "But I know these firefighters are right on top of things."

The historic building, which is gray stone with nine-windows across on each floor, dates from the 1920s and bears the words 'Hecht's Reliable Stores' on its cornice. A city building inspector was on the scene by mid-morning trying to ascertain whether the structure would have to be demolished, Clark said.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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