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Fire guts West Baltimore’s Edmondson Village Shopping Center, damaging 10 businesses

A three-alarm fire tore through the historic Edmondson Village Shopping Center in West Baltimore on Friday, damaging 10 businesses.

A fire ripped through West Baltimore’s historic Edmondson Village Shopping Center early Friday morning, damaging 10 businesses and cutting off a lifeline for a community with few other shops nearby.

It took nearly 10 hours for fire crews to control the three-alarm blaze, which began around 12:30 a.m. No one was injured in the incident.

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It’s unclear how long the stores will be closed, but the damage was extensive. Some of the businesses — a pharmacy, a lake trout restaurant, a party store — were missing their roofs. The owner of the shopping center, Ira Miller of Miller Investments, could not be reached for comment.

Hours after the fire was contained, workers were sweeping up debris and glass from blown out windows while others hammered up boards to cover the windows and doors of burned businesses. Soggy ash and soot covered the parking lot, which still was flooded in areas from the firefighters’ response.

City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett walked around the shopping center Friday morning and surveyed the damage.

Community members in his district relied on the shopping center for access to food and medical care, he said.

“It’s going to have a huge impact,” he said.

Baltimore Fire Department spokeswoman Blair Adams it’s “too early to tell” the cause of the fire.

Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. said firefighters called the company to the scene early Friday morning to help turn off natural gas to the building.

The fire department determined the fire was not caused initially by gas, BGE said in a statement. However, the fire became gas-fed as it spread throughout the building, reaching tenants’ gas equipment.

BGE crews needed to dig into the ground to turn off the gas, Baltimore Fire Commander Roman Clark said.

A University of Maryland Women’s Health Center and its Baltimore City Cancer Program facility in the shopping center were not penetrated by the fire but suffered “extensive” smoke and water damage, said Lisa Clough, a University of Maryland Medical Center spokeswoman.

The programs will be relocated to a different facility next week, Clough said. There is no set date for when the services will return to the shopping center.

Monique Washington-Alston, president of the Edmondson Village Community Association, said the fire will have a large impact on senior citizens and people who don’t have a car, because the shopping center was within walking distance of many homes.

Washington-Alston said she’s not optimistic that the area will get much support from the city to rebuild the shopping center. She’s led the community association since 2006 and every year she’s asked for help to revitalize the shopping center that she says lacks curb appeal and variety — and has become riddled with crime.

“It’s 2019 and we have not seen any major improvements,” she said. “We want better, we deserve better, but I don’t understand — the city invests everywhere else but here.”

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Nikeia Alston, 41, lives nearby and arrived for her job at the center’s Family Dollar around 7 a.m.

“I just keep thinking about all of those jobs,” Alston said before wiping her eyes. “It’s the holiday season.”

The Family Dollar where she works as assistant manager appeared unscathed by the flames, but Alston said she won’t know for sure until she and her store manager can go inside.

The Edmondson Village Shopping Center opened in 1947 and is said to be the first suburban shopping center on the East Coast, according to a 1997 Baltimore Sun article.

The shopping center used to have a bowling alley, the Dugout Restaurant and a Hess Shoe store with live monkeys on display. In recent years, the aging strip mall center has struggled to keep up with its competitors but still boasts a variety of stores.

Friday’s fire was at least the fourth to hit the center, Adams said. Crews extinguished a four-alarm fire in 2008, another fire in the 1980s and one in 1968.

The Edmondson Village neighborhood was left reeling this summer after a string of 11 fires broke out in the area on July 30. It’s unclear if those fires were related.

Adams said the shopping center fires is “totally unrelated and separate from those incidents .”

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