At least three people suffered injuries following a residential fire Wednesday morning in North Baltimore that involved several rowhouses and was across the street from where a Pride flag was torched around the same time.
Firefighters responded shortly after 4 a.m. to the 300 block of East 31st Street in the Abell neighborhood after the rowhouse fire was reported, Baltimore City Fire spokesperson Blair Adams said.
“When we arrived on scene, we had fire showing from a total of four homes. All of the occupants that were in the home; they self evacuated,” Adams said. “Two of them (homes) were fully involved. You can see fire coming from multiple floors of the two story.”
A woman, 30, and a man, 57, were taken to the hospital in critical condition, and another man, 74, was taken to Shock Trauma in serious condition, Adams said.
Odette Ramos, councilwoman for the 14th District, which includes Abell, said two had been released as of about 6:30 p.m.
Firefighters had the fire under control about 5 a.m., Adams said.
The cause of the fire is being investigated with multiple agencies assisting including Baltimore City Police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, she said.
“We’re just waiting for the investigation to occur in terms of what happened and whether it was related to a couple other fires that were happening today around the same time,” Ramos said, which included a car and trash fire nearby.
A rainbow flag typically displayed as a symbol of LGBTQ Pride on a home across the street from the rowhouse fire also had been set on fire, leading investigators to suspect there could be a connection.
“Everything is on the table. We’re just not sure what had happened. There could be a connection; there may not be. We don’t know,” Ramos said. “There was a Pride flag that was burned separately.”
One of the homes destroyed by the fire also had a Pride flag hanging outside, Ramos said.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Fire Chief Niles Ford visited the scene Wednesday morning.
“At this point, we cannot confirm that this was a hate crime,” Scott said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “However, my agencies will bring every appropriate resource to bear to get to the bottom of this tragic event. Regardless, I continue to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ community.”
In a statement, Baltimore Fire Chief Niles Ford indicated investigators believe someone set the fire.
“As this investigation moves forward, we will continue to work with the Baltimore City Police Department, ATF and the FBI to determine who is responsible for setting the fire,” Ford said.
Dan Walker and Vanessa Rook, who live directly across the street from the fire, said they were awoken Wednesday morning by what sounded like glass breaking and saw flames.
The two saw fire everywhere before Rook dialed 911, and Walker rushed out of the house to make sure the occupants of the homes involved got out safely.
Walker said the rowhouse that sustained the most damage in the fire “was pretty well decorated with banners and flags” following a Pride event in the neighborhood last weekend.
“But I mean, the fact that the one on our side also got burned up like that can’t just be coincidence,” he said. “There’s no way like, embers just happened to fly over there and (hit) only that flag but no curtains and no trees. No nothing else.”
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Walker and Rook said they won’t let what they called a callous potential hate crime stoke fear in them or the neighborhood.
“We’ll double down and everybody’s gonna get Pride flags on their houses now just to show like we’re not gonna live in fear of it, but I mean, it definitely makes you a little scared,” Walker said. “You know, you can’t just live like that.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Vanessa Rook's name. The Sun regrets the error.