Spectacular fire destroys city business Cause of gas-fed blaze is unknown


A spectacular, three-alarm fire destroyed a waterproofing and caulking installation company in the 800 block of N. Pulaski St. today, causing $275,000 in damage and putting a dozen employees out of work.

The cause and origin of the fire at the E. B. Justice Co. in West Baltimore is under investigation, said Captain Hector Torres, fire department spokesman.

No one was inside the locked building when the fire started. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries fighting the blaze. They were treated at the scene.

Fed by exploding propane gas tanks on several fork-lifts and the fuel tanks on four pickup trucks and vans parked inside the building, the fire burned out of control for more than two hours before 150 firefighters manning 45 pieces of equipment brought the blaze under control at about 3 a.m.

Between 12:47 a.m. and 1:29 a.m., extra pieces of equipment were sent to the scene. In all, the equipment sent was equivalent to what would ordinarily respond to a four-alarm fire, Captain Torres said.

Although a cause has not been determined, investigators said the fire began in the northern end of the building where the pickup trucks and fork-lifts are parked.

The first alarm was sounded at 12:11 a.m., the second at 12:21 a.m., the third at 12:34 a.m.

Western District police said they could see the flames from the station's parking lot, nearly a mile away.

"By the time we pulled up to the building," said one officer, "there were huge orange balls of fire leaping more than 50 feet into the night sky."

At the height of the fire, the force of the flames pushed water from several hoses out onto the street. A slight breeze blew huge columns of smoke over much of West Baltimore.

A house in the 2000 block of W. Lanvale St. received minor damage from the fire, Captain Torres said.

John Justice, 41, vice president of E. B. Justice Co., said he left the building around 5 p.m. and everything appeared normal.

"I got a phone call from the alarm company at 12:30 a.m. and they told me the building was on fire," said Mr. Justice as he watched firefighters pour tons of water on what had been a thriving business for 37 years.

He said the warehouse contained waterproofing and caulking materials, some with an asphalt base, used in all types of construction.

Parts of the brick and wood frame building were more than 70 years old, Mr. Justice said, and the structure had no sprinkler system.

In the fire's first moments, propane fuel tanks on the fork lifts exploded, causing portions of the west, south and east walls and more than half the roof to collapse. A short time later, the fuel tanks on pickup trucks and vans exploded.

Mr. Justice said a watch dog was missing. "It was a mixed-breed German shepherd that we picked up off the street and hired," he said.

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