A four-alarm fire in an historic Annapolis retail district just a block from the State House damaged two buildings and put on a show for tourists, but a quick response by firefighters appeared to have held losses to a minimum.
The Saturday afternoon fire broke out in a space between the buildings at 54 and 56 Maryland Ave. at a time when the capital city was crowded with visitors to a love-themed city festival and the annual croquet grudge match between St. John's College and the Naval Academy.
Lt. John Bowes of the Annapolis Fire Department said the first call came in at 1:36 p.m. as a report of smoke at 54 Maryland Ave.
As of late Saturday, there was no indication of a cause and no damage estimate, but neither building appeared to have been severely affected.
The block where the fire occurred is lined with shops — many of them galleries and antique boutiques — in more than 100-year-old buildings on either side of the avenue, anchored by the Galway Bay restaurant.
Bowes said 72 firefighters responded with 24 pieces of equipment as the Annapolis department received help from Anne Arundel County and Naval Academy firefighters. The blaze was brought under control at 2:50 p.m., he said.
The fire aroused concern because Annapolis has a history of dramatic fires in old structures in the historic district, including three on Main Street in the past 20 years.
The store at 54 Maryland where the fire was first reported was listed as the Paw Pet Boutique, but the business currently there is the new Leonard Tourné Gallery. The ground-floor shop has two apartments above.
Bowes said the reason the fire went to four alarms was that it broke out in the "void" between Nos. 54 and 56, making it hard for firefighters to locate the source. He said most of the loss occurred at 54 but that 56 Maryland, which houses The Smoke Shop tobacconist, also had water and smoke damage.
It was luck that damage wasn't worse, Bowes said. "It was a good thing they got to it when they did because when you've got a void like that, it can travel pretty fast," he said.
Firetrucks jammed the narrow street until late in the afternoon, and crowds of gawkers mixed with firefighters and investigators on a sunny but blustery day.
Christina Madden, co-owner of the Tourné gallery, said her business just moved in a month ago. The shop sells contemporary and modern art along with 50 million-year-old fossils from Wyoming. She said she and her co-owner, Javier Tourné, were planning a grand opening Thursday but that plans were now up in the air.
Madden said she and Tourné were coming in from New York this afternoon when they received a call that there was smoke coming from their building. When they arrived a little before 2 p.m., she said, they could see the fire trucks from the State House.
Madden and Tourné said they live in an apartment above the shop and were planning to look for a hotel room for at least the night.
"We feel real lucky no one was hurt," Tourné said.
Linda Simkins, who manages Annapolis Interiors at 52 Maryland Ave., said she had lost power and was forced to close after what started out as a day of steady business.
But she described the emergency response as "phenomenal."
"The police and firefighters, they were just awesome," she said.