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Baltimore City

After Baltimore firefighters missed man’s body in building fire, his family wants answers

The family of a man whose body was found hours after a building fire is seeking answers as to why Baltimore firefighters failed to find and rescue him.

Firefighters on Dec. 3 responded about 11:30 p.m. to the 2500 block of West Lexington Street in West Baltimore for a two-story, commercial building fire with heavy fire and smoke, according to officials.

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Crews initially battled the blaze from inside but evacuated because there was structural damage, the Baltimore City Fire Department said in a Dec. 5 news release. Firefighters then attacked the blaze from the outside and had the fire under control about 1:20 a.m.

Spokesperson Blair Adams on Dec. 5 said crew members did not receive reports of anyone inside the building as they fought the fire. The building was not classified as vacant, she said.

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There was no reason to believe anyone was inside the building, she said Tuesday.

Before noon on Dec. 4, a person called 911 and said a man was inside the building when it went up in flames. Fire officials and Baltimore Police responded to the warehouse and found James Craig Jr., 45, dead on the second floor.

Donte Craig drove to the Shipley Hill building that morning to find his older brother after hearing about the fire and not receiving calls or texts back from him.

James Craig Jr., who leased the building for his demolition and hauling business, used the first floor as a workshop and sometimes slept upstairs, according to his brother.

Donte Craig said he easily walked up the stairs and spotted his brother’s body before reaching the top. He believes his brother was trying to get out, he said. Now, his family is asking why firefighters couldn’t do the same and potentially save his brother’s life.

Police on Wednesday said the incident is not a homicide.

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Baltimore City Fire Department said the cause of the fire is under investigation. A spokesperson with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said Monday that Craig’s cause of death was smoke inhalation and thermal injuries. The manner of death was ruled an accident.

The Baltimore Fire Department and its policies have been criticized since three firefighters died early this year after being trapped in a blaze inside a vacant southwest Baltimore rowhouse. Their families announced Thursday that they plan to sue the city.

Former Baltimore Fire Chief Niles Ford resigned in response to an investigative report that found numerous deficiencies. The report found that there was no program to notify firefighters about vacant and unsafe homes or standard procedures for battling fires and coordinating EMS responses at vacant buildings.

The report also cited a culture of competition among firefighters that might have led to increased risk-taking.

Baltimore’s high concentration of vacant buildings present a particular danger to firefighters. A Baltimore Sun investigation showed vacant homes in Baltimore burn at twice the national rate, but gaps in record-keeping have limited what firefighters know before proceeding inside.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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For the record

A previous version of this article misstated when a spokesperson provided information about the fire.


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