A Molotov cocktail was thrown through a side window of the Pimlico branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in the 5000 block of Park Heights Ave. early today, causing a one-alarm fire that caused about $100,000 damage to the building and its contents, police said.
Police questioned two men whom witnesses implicated in the fire, but they were later released without being charged. However, police said, evidence against the pair will be submitted to a grand jury to determine whether charges will be lodged.
Another incendiary device was thrown through the side window of a clothing store about a block away from the library but did not ignite, according to fire officials.
At 1:20 a.m., a deliberately set fire outside local offices of the Boy Scouts of America in the 700 block of Wyman Park Drive damaged windows. Damage was estimated at $1,000.
Also, a vacant house in the 1500 block of Rosedale St. in Walbrook was intentionally set ablaze with gasoline about 5:30 a.m. today.
Fire Department spokesman Capt. Hector Torres, referring to the verdict in the Rodney King beating trial in Los Angeles, said, "We see no connection with the fires in Baltimore and the trouble on the West Coast."
One victim disagreed, however.
Sarah Peters, owner of the Family Clothing Store in the 5100 block of Park Heights Ave., which was hit by an unexploded incendiary device, said today, "I am very much disgusted and ashamed. I don't think this type of thing should happen to anyone, black or white. This wouldn't have happened if it weren't for the Rodney King verdict."
Ms. Peters, who is black, has operated her business on Park Heights Avenue since 1974. The store reopened for business today.
A high-ranking source in the city police department credited Baltimore community leaders with doing "a good job" keeping things cool in Baltimore.
"We're staying in close contact with them. We will remain alert for any possible problems. There are some extra foot patrol personnel working the districts and listening and talking," he said.
The library fire, which broke out about 2:30 a.m., destroyed furniture and scores of paperback books in a work room, but books on stacks in the public portion of the building survived with only a light coating of soot. Major fire damage was confined to the work room and a small kitchen behind the checkout desk. A first-floor literacy center and a basement meeting room sustained minor smoke and water damage.
Florence Brown, chief of the library's branch division, said the branch had been scheduled to re-open next Thursday after having been closed since September due to a faulty furnace. The branch was to be open twice a week.
"This really is shocking,I'll tell you that," Ms. Brown said as she surveyed the damage. She could not say when the library might reopen. "The intent is to deliver services to this community, but how, we don't know yet."
Sgt. Mark Tomlin of the Northwestern District said the incident was believed to be a senseless and random act and not connected with the rioting in Los Angeles.
"It was a very criminal and stupid thing to do," said Sergeant Tomlin.
"People are just lashing out," said Pamela King, adult literacy coordinator for the Northwest Baltimore Corp., an umbrella group for community organizations.
"We're shocked that they would bother a library," said Ms. King, as she stood before a pile of burned books and other rubble.
Police Officer Randy Dull, of the Northwestern District, said he was pulling up to the library shortly after 2:30 a.m. in response to a burglar alarm when flames suddenly erupted from the West Garrison Avenue side of the one-story brick building.
"The alarm company reported hearing glass breaking inside the library and I had just stopped out front when flames were all over the place and coming out of the window," said Officer Dull.
He said the sound of breaking glass that the alarm company recorded was the Molotov cocktail being thrown through a side window.
No injuries were reported. The fire was under control at 2:55 a.m.
Huge fans were placed in several windows to suck smoke out of the building, while police and fire department arson investigators probed the debris.
Earlier today, while firefighters extinguished the last remnants of the library fire and were dousing hot spots, four men in their early 20s, one carrying a basketball, were watching the activity when a witness told police that two of them started the fire.
"Keep these two and let those two go," said Sergeant Tomlin, after the unidentified witness pointed them out.