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Three-alarm fire engulfs senior center under construction

A senior center under construction in East Baltimore was ablaze Monday night.

A community center and apartments being built across the street from the Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore were ablaze Monday night — a huge, raging fire visible from blocks away.

Firefighters were called at 8:49 p.m. to the three-alarm fire engulfing the building at Gay and Federal streets. Authorities said they did not know the cause, nor whether the fire was related to rioting elsewhere in the city.

As crews from multiple companies were attempting to control the blaze, about 60 parishioners watched in shock, many of them crying.

"Who would do this to our church? one woman sobbed. "Why, why?"

Baltimore Fire Department spokesman Capt. Roman Clark said unrest on the west side — which included a burned and looted CVS convenience store at Pennsylvania and West North avenues — did not affect firefighters' ability to respond.

"It did not complicate our response at all," Clark said. "We were able to dispatch units as soon as we got the call."

Law enforcement officers with shotguns were patrolling the fire scene Monday night.

Deanetrice Fleming, 43, of Northwood formed a prayer group off to the side of the fire, and together, she and other church members held hands and prayed.

"Save our city," Fleming said. "Rescue us, oh God!"

Fleming said the church members are shocked at the violence in the city and the loss of the building, but she pointed at the sky and said, "Vengeance is his, not mine.

"There is so much hurting, so they're acting out and we need to come together," she said.

The project, planned as roughly 60 senior-citizen apartments and a community center, has been in the works since at least 2006. It is being built by The Woda Group, a low-income housing developer.

The state Department of Housing and Community Development granted $200,000 last year toward the center, which was intended for community events, educational services and employment training.

The city lent $15 million toward the construction of the senior apartments at 1600 N. Chester Street, which also received public financing in the form of low-income housing tax credits.

Kevin Bell, senior vice president of The Woda Group, vowed to rebuild. "This does not make us go away," he said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, Clark said.

"This fire is going to spark a revival," said the Rev. Donte Hickman, pastor of the church.

No one was injured in the East Baltimore blaze, but a firefighter was injured at another fire at Presstman and Longwood streets in Rosemont in West Baltimore. His condition was not released.

Baltimore Sun reporter Natalie Sherman contributed to this article.

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