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A fire goes to two alarms at the vacant Christ Institution Baptist Church at 704 Ensor St, an historic structure for the African American community.

A historic but long vacant church in East Baltimore caught fire Friday evening.

Baltimore Fire Chief Niles Ford said firefighters were called to the 700 block of Ensor St. to the former Christ Institution Baptist Church for a fire.

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Ford said that when firefighters attempted to enter the boarded up sanctuary, "the fire really started rolling" due to a rush of oxygen, causing a second-alarm.

The cause was under investigation.

In the early 1900s black and white, young and old and the sick of Baltimore crowded into the Christ Institution on Ensor Street on Sunday nights, ready to be cured by the church’s founder, Dr. George Kennard.

The church has a history that dates to 1895, and it once served as a combination church, hospital and medical school.

In the early 1900s its founder, Dr. George Kennard, conducted healing services that drew both blacks and whites to the congregation, according to published reports at the time.

In 1902, The Afro called it “a peculiar Baltimore institution that is doing good.”

The building had been on the market for sale earlier this year.

Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.

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