National Bohemian fire

Fire burns in the cork walls of a former brewery complex in Brewer's Hill. (Jen Rynda, Baltimore Sun / August 18, 2011)

Walls covered in cork caught fire Thursday in a vacant brewery complex in Southeast Baltimore's Brewers Hill, a fire official said.

Firefighters were called to the historic building about 2 p.m., said Capt. Roman Clark, a spokesman for the Baltimore City Fire Department. The fire was primarily confined to the third and fourth floors, he said, and was still being fought Thursday evening.

Heavy fire, smoke and the collapse of interior walls created unsafe conditions and firefighters were ordered for a time from the building, part of the old Gunther Brewery complex in the 1200 block of S. Conkling St., Clark said. The fire was fought from the exterior of the building for a brief period, and firefighters were eventually able to re-enter.

Three firefighters suffered heat exhaustion, said Clark, who added that the cause of the fire is under investigation.

The building was listed in 2002 on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Gunther Brewing Co.'s property. Hamm's beer was also brewed for a time in the building, which has the word Hamm's written across the top.

Gunther, a frequent sponsor of the Orioles and Colts, was sold to Hamm's Brewing Co. more than 50 years ago.

The building is owned by Gunther Main South LLC, a company that is in the care of Obrecht Commercial Real Estate. A person who answered the phone at Obrecht said that the firm did not have a comment on the fire.

In 2000, The Baltimore Sun reported that Wells Obrecht, owner of Obrecht Commercial Real Estate, wanted to create 90,000 square feet of office space out of a portion of the Gunther Brewery complex.

At the time Obrecht said, "I'd like to see this whole area become a healthy campus of office and retail, a suburban setting in an urban area."

An entrance to the building had a notice taped on it Thursday indicating that asbestos abatement was scheduled to take place between July 5 and Nov. 5. The abatement is being handled by Asbestos Specialists Inc. of Linthicum Heights.

A man who identified himself over the phone as the asbestos removal company's director said that abatement had been completed in the part of the building that was burning.

The public is not in danger of being exposed to asbestos, he said. He declined to provide his name.

Clark could not confirm if asbestos was present in the burning structure. He said that a portion of the building was in the process of being demolished and that workers were in the building before the fire began.

Traffic throughout the Brewers Hill neighborhood, as far north as Eastern Avenue, slowed Thursday afternoon as firetrucks and police cruisers flooded the streets surrounding the old brewery building.

Handfuls of people gathered on nearby streets to watch smoke seep from the historic brick walls.

steve.kilar@baltsun.com

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