A fire damaged four Little Italy rowhouses yesterday morning, including a bakery that has been a neighborhood fixture for eight decades and is run by the community's last old-time bread maker.
M. Marinelli & Son, which opened in a rowhouse at 321 S. Central Ave. in 1914, provides bread to about 20 Baltimore restaurants, including several in Little Italy and Tio Pepe, regarded as one of the city's best.
By yesterday afternoon, the bakery was again producing bread, much to the relief of nearby proprietors.
"I saw them making deliveries around the neighborhood," said Chris Ertel, a bar manager at Velleggia's Restaurant, who said that without bread from Marinelli's, "Little Italy would shut down. We would have to get bread from somewhere else, but it wouldn't be the same."
No injuries were reported in the two-alarm fire that broke out about 8:30 a.m., but it left a bakery worker homeless and ruined another house where business records and supplies were kept.
The bakery sustained smoke and water damage, and fire officials initially were not sure when it could reopen for business.
"Oh, God, I was scared to death," said Debbie Scher, who lives at 315 S. Central Ave. Flames spread to the roof of her two-story red-brick rowhouse, which she had just finished renovating.
"My neighbors came over," said Ms. Scher, who has worked at the bakery for 20 years. "They kept banging on my door, 'There's a fire! There's a fire!' When I looked out, I could see the flames coming out of 319."
Ms. Scher, her 9-year-old godson and his mother escaped the flames. "Some day off, isn't it," she muttered, shaking her head as firefighters dragged hoses through her front door.
The bakery is owned by Anthony Marinelli, whose father opened the shop in 1914 when Mr. Marinelli was 2 years old. He has lived there ever since, and survived as other family-run bakeries either moved or folded.
Mr. Marinelli's earliest memories are riding on a horse-drawn bread wagon making deliveries around Baltimore. His father, Michael Marinelli, was part of a wave of German, Polish, Jewish and Italian immigrants to open bakeries throughout the city.
Yesterday, Mr. Marinelli stood outside and watched as firefighters doused the three rowhouses that he owns with water and expressed disbelief at the damage.
"The only thing I know is that I seen people running out of the shop," he said. "I seen the flames and heard somebody call for the fire department."
The rowhouse at 319 S. Central, next door to the bakery, is where one of Mr. Marinelli's workers lives. Nick Kangkpkan, 53, has baked bread at Marinelli's for 15 years.
Fire investigators said the fire started in Mr. Kangkpkan's second-floor front bedroom. They ruled the cause accidental, most likely from an overheated electric heater. The fire caused an estimated $72,000 in total damage.
Mr. Kangkpkan was next door in the bakery with two other workers and Mr. Marinelli's son-in-law, Eddie Filipiak, when the fire started. They were trying to fix a broken mixer.
"We kept smelling smoke," said Mr. Filipiak, 68, who married Rose, one of Mr. Marinelli's six sisters. "But nobody could trace it. We looked all inside the bakery, never figuring the house."