The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office said Monday that it’s reviewing the results of an investigation into the origin and the cause of a deadly vacant rowhouse fire after the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives completed its inquiry.
The ATF and Baltimore Police Department finished their six-month investigation in June into the fire that was set the morning of Jan. 24 in a vacant rowhouse that collapsed on several Baltimore firefighters, killing three and seriously injuring a fourth. The ATF and State’s Attorney’s Office have not released details of the agency’s findings or announced any criminal charges while the office examines the investigation.
ATF led the investigation and quickly determined that someone set the fire, either intentionally or accidentally, classifying the blaze as “incendiary.” The label resulted in the Office of the Medical Examiner ruling the fallen firefighters’ deaths as homicides. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said in April that the department would open a homicide investigation in partnership with ATF.
ATF referred the case to the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office for “prosecutorial consideration,” rather than a state or federal office, after considering the types of charges that can be filed and penalties associated with those charges, among other factors, said Amanda Hils, an ATF spokesperson, in a statement.
“Between then and now, we have worked with them to follow up on any additional investigative matters that will aid in this process,” Hils said.
Emily Witty, a State’s Attorney’s Office spokesperson, confirmed Monday that the office received the results of the investigation but didn’t offer a timeline of the next steps.
The deaths of Lt. Kelsey Sadler, Lt. Paul Butrim and firefighter/paramedic Kenny Lacayo spurred city officials to find immediate solutions to a persistent problem Baltimore has in thousands of privately owned vacant rowhouses that are safety risks for citizens and first responders. Aggressive attention from various agencies and city ordinances implemented this year have contributed to Baltimore’s vacant housing stock dropping below 15,000 for the first time in decades.
The tragedy led The Baltimore Sun to examine the inconsistent method the Baltimore City Fire Department uses to warn its firefighters of hazards inside vacant buildings that they sometimes enter, especially when it’s believed a person is trapped inside, such as at the Stricker Street fire. On Oct. 24, the department began placing reflective placards on unsafe vacant and abandoned buildings, a coordinated approach recommended by national fire agencies, the state’s occupational safety agency and suggested in the city’s 30-day review of vacant buildings.
Around 6 a.m. Jan. 24, one of eight 911 callers who reported heavy fire in a house on the 200 block of South Stricker Street said a person was trapped inside, according to dispatch records obtained by The Sun.
Sadler, Lacayo and Butrim, members of Engine 14 and Truck 23, charged inside with water hoses and to look for victims. The vacant house, which had partially collapsed in a 2015 fire, caved in within five minutes of the firefighters entering it. Six people were buried in the collapse, three fatally. Firefighter and EMT John McMaster survived and spent nine days in two hospitals.