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‘These are the things that keep people up’: Four fires burn within two miles in West Baltimore overnight

Four fires broke out overnight Thursday in West Baltimore, renewing concerns among some residents in a district that has seen a spate of blazes in recent months.

The fires overnight Thursday all occurred within a mile and a half of each other, across the Allendale, Edgewood and Rognel Heights neighborhoods along Edmondson Avenue. At least one person was displaced and a firefighter was injured, officials said.

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The fire department is investigating whether the fires were connected and what caused them, spokeswoman Blair Adams said Friday.

“People are scared,” said City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, who represents those neighborhoods.

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Burnett, who’s lived in the area for 10 years, said he’s never seen anything like this before.

“These are the things that keep people up at night," said Burnett, adding that the fires appear to be occurring in random homes across the district.

The Baltimore Police Southwest District, which includes those neighborhoods, saw 17 fires in December. Among those were 11 that occurred in the Carrollton Ridge neighborhood in a 24-hour period ending the evening of Dec. 2. Those fires took place in abandoned buildings in a section of the city between the intersections of West Pratt and South Pulaski streets and South Calhoun and McHenry streets.

Baltimore police last month charged William Ritchie, 32, and Shawn Krainer, 42, in connection with at least two arson cases, and they have upcoming court appearances. Police have not provided any additional information on arson arrests.

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In November, firefighters responded to a three-alarm blaze in the historic Edmondson Village Shopping Center that damaged 10 businesses. Officials have not said what caused the fire. In July, the Edmondson Village neighborhood also saw 11 fires.

Last month, members of the Baltimore City Council convened a hearing where they questioned Fire Chief Niles R. Ford and other officials about their investigations.

“We understand the fear and concern of the community,” Ford told council members at the Dec. 17 hearing, but he cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

Ford said investigators must take time to thoroughly investigate the causes, noting that they should not be assumed to be arson.

Six of the Southwest District fires have been determined to be arson, of which three have been closed by arrest, fire officials said at the hearing.

Last year, Baltimore Police investigated 88 arson cases, of which 35 were closed, and officers made 26 arrests. In 2018, there were 92 arsons, 29 of which were closed. Officers made 28 arrests that year.

The first of the four fires Thursday started around 9:30 p.m. in the 400 block of Lyndhurst St., Adams said. It’s unclear if the home was vacant or occupied, she said.

About 30 minutes later, another fire started in the 3700 block of Edmondson Ave., in the Edgewood neighborhood, damaging several rowhomes. One person was inside and able to escape with only minor, non-life threatening injuries, Adams said. One firefighter sustained minor injuries that required treatment at an area hospital, she said.

Burnett, who was at the scene of the two-alarm blaze last night, said the resident sustained injuries while fleeing the house. The councilman said the man is still in the hospital but “in good spirits.”

Burnett said the fire on Edmondson Avenue began in a vacant home that wasn’t boarded up, then spread to the residential home.

Firefighters then responded to the Rognel Heights neighborhood just before 10:30 p.m. for a fire on the exterior of a house in the 600 block of Wicklow Road. Adams said the fire was extinguished within an hour. It’s unknown whether the home was vacant, Adams said.

An hour later firefighters responded to a “heavy fire” throughout multiple floors in a vacant home in the 600 block of Allendale St. in Edgewood, around the corner from the Edmondson Avenue fire. That fire also was under control within an hour, Adams said.

Many of the homes that have recently caught fire have been abandoned, but it’s unclear if people were squatting in the homes and unintentionally started fires, Ford said in December.

“Our biggest concern is the fact that we never know who’s in these buildings or sections of rowhouses,” he said. “Someone might be seeking shelter.”

The fire department did not provide information on how many fires have occurred in vacant buildings. Previously, the department reported that about 15 percent of all structure fires occurred in vacant buildings.

Days before the council meeting, Ford, along with Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and officials from other city agencies walked with residents to some of the burned homes in the Carrollton Ridge neighborhood and heard from residents concerned about their safety.

Cynthia Tensley, the Carrollton Ridge Community Association president, told city leaders how many in the community are worried that their homes could be next to burn, as other vacant buildings were left unsecured and could catch fire.

In addition to the recent gun violence in her community, “fire has also created and contributed to the post-traumatic stress a lot of people in the community are experiencing," she told the mayor.

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