George Knott surveyed the ruined interior of the house he grew up in.
When he heard about the fire Tuesday in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood — which left up to eight rowhomes badly damaged — he drove from Shrewsbury, Pa. to help his brother, Steve, who still lived in their childhood home.
In the early evening, after the blaze had been put out by a crew of more than 70 firefighters, a cleanup worker named Jessica Reynolds was sweeping black sludge, a mix of water and burnt debris, off the first floor of Steve Knott’s house.
“Is there any other sentimental items that you’d like removed from the house as soon as possible?” she asked.
George Knott looked around. The grandfather clock was already taken out. It was the one his dad had given his mother right before she died, and had stood near the 1930s-era wooden mantle. Both had been left miraculously intact, he said, as if protected by a shroud.
Workers with Woodmoor Cleaners, a dry cleaning company, shuffled in and out of the homes carrying what could be saved of people’s clothing and shoes.
Between the fire and the water used to put it out, there wasn’t a whole lot left.
“We’re good, we’re not miracle workers,” said employee Jeff Lake. “This is really bad.”
Most of the residents had insurance, said Lake. But not all.
The homes had once been worker housing for a local sailcloth factory, said resident Doug George, 73. He was born and raised a few houses away, and returned to the block as an adult after some time in the military, and after his career and marriage ended.
Tuesday he sat on a neighbor’s stoop, having packed up what he could in black garbage bags.
He’d lost his vinyl record collection in the fire, along with most of the rest of his earthly possessions. He had wanted to have the albums digitized, he said.
He could still find them online, Lake suggested.
Not his version of the 1812 Overture. “You can’t get that on CD,” he said.
A woman and a young boy walked out of their house and over the yellow police tape. She held one of his toy boats and looked at the ground. The boy held a pillow that had somehow managed to stay dry.
Neighbor Dennis Cardiff watched as workers walked along the roof of the front porches, throwing down pieces of charred wood and debris.
Red signs outside the front doors revealed the structures’ fate: Condemned.
Blue sky and clouds could be seen through the third story windows.
There have been other fires here through the years, said Cardiff, who lives up the street. “This whole block has had its sorrows.”
George Knott said he, himself, had started a fire there over 50 years ago. He’d been just 4 years old. His mother had brought home clothes from the dry cleaners, and he was playing with matches. The clothes caught fire, the bag they were carried in caught fire and enveloped him. At the hospital they soaked his burns in ice water.
He survived. So did the house.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” he said, viewing the fire scene.
“The smell, the water.”