Three adults and two children were injured in a major fire late Sunday in Northwest Baltimore, city officials say, with residents describing an explosion that destroyed homes, shattered windows and collapsed roofs.
Fire officials, however, have yet to confirm the source of the three-alarm blaze, which occurred around 10 p.m. in the 4300 block of Lanier Ave., north of Cold Spring Lane.
Baltimore Fire Department spokeswoman Blair Adams said the cause of the fire remains under investigation. She compared the incident to the August gas explosion on Labryinth Road, also in Northwest Baltimore, that killed two people and damaged dozens of homes.
“Although it’s very close to what we had a few months ago, it’s not a confirmed explosion,” Adams said.
All five of the injured individuals were in “serious but stable condition” as of Monday afternoon, said Roman Clark, another fire department spokesman. A pregnant woman, two children ages 3 and 4, and two men ages 45 and 54 were injured in the blast, officials said.
Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. crews shut off natural gas and electric services in the area, the company said in a Monday morning statement. Crews worked throughout the night to canvass the area, and found no readings of natural gas, the utility said. They also pressure-tested gas service pipes leading to the homes and didn’t find any leaks, BGE said.
“BGE’s records for this area show no recent leaks, no repairs or active project work and no gas odor calls in the last 12 months,” the company said.
BGE’s findings could indicate that an issue with customer-owned equipment caused Sunday’s fire, said company spokeswoman Linda Foy, although it’s too early to tell. Customers own and are responsible for all of the gas equipment on their property, beyond BGE’s meter.
BGE has said that the August blast on Labryinth Road may have been caused by “customer-owned” equipment.
Marcia Sykes, 41, said she was just getting out of the shower in her home Sunday night when she heard the blast. Her roof caved in, pinning her beneath debris and fallen furniture, she said. At first, she thought it was an earthquake. Shocked, she stared through the hole in her roof.
“I saw nothing when I looked up,” Sykes said. “I saw the sky.”
Her husband and son helped her scramble out from under the wreckage, and she fled her home with her family wearing nothing but a gray jacket, she said, having suffered minor scratches.
“We just hear everybody outside yelling,” she said. “There are people crying, there are people yelling. We are on our way down the steps, where things are still falling from my ceiling.”
As Sykes stepped outside, she said she turned to see her neighbor’s upstairs bedroom on fire.
“I was crying hysterically. I couldn’t believe what was happening,” she said. “I pretty much lost everything.”
Sykes said she suspects gas was involved in the incident, because she could smell the familiar rotten eggs scent.
The only thing officials were able to retrieve from Sykes' home were the keys to her car, blanketed in debris, Sykes said. Not the family’s cat — a grey and white tabby named Elik. Not the wedding ring she’d taken off before her shower.
Sykes and her husband had just gotten married on Saturday, she said, and it’s likely that wedding gifts, her gown and other mementos were destroyed. The home was soaked by rain and water from firehoses as officials rushed to put out the fire next door, she said.
“All you heard was a whole bunch of popping,” said Sykes, who sheltered with her family and about 15 others inside Edgecombe Circle Elementary School across the street. “I didn’t even think that we were safe enough to go inside of the school, because when we were inside of the school, there was glass that was shattered.”
She said she didn’t see her next door neighbor, whose home had caught fire, in the school, however.
Misty Bruce, executive director of the Central Maryland Chapter of the Red Cross, said the organization has helped place three families in hotels. Edgecombe Circle Elementary officials are accepting donations for those impacted by the fire at the school on Virginia Avenue.
City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer said he was in his home about 1.5 miles away from the scene when he felt his house shake.
“I ran outside, my neighbor ran outside, it felt like an explosion,” he said.
Schleifer and other city leaders began coordinating relief efforts near the intersection of Greenspring and DuPont avenues.
“We just had an explosion a couple of months ago on Labyrinth Road and so we know how devastating it is," Schleifer said. “City leadership is here to support the residents with anything they need. We’re out here trying to help anybody who needs to be relocated ... and other services.”
Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott said his priority was to care for those affected by the incident.
“We have to make sure we are looking out for those people,” Scott said. “Everything else will come to light as we move forward, but we should leave it to the professionals.”
Scott, who is the Democratic nominee for mayor, said it was too soon to draw any parallels to the Labyrinth Road fire.
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“[Whether it’s the] second time or first time, reality is we have an incident like this and it’s a tragedy,” he said.