Baltimore blaze that killed 3 firefighters called ‘incendiary’; deaths deemed homicides

FILE - An excavator is used to pull debris off a building during efforts to retrieve the body of a deceased firefighter caught in the building's collapse while battling a two-alarm fire in the vacant row home, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Baltimore. Officials said several firefighters died during the blaze. The U.S. Census estimates there are 17 million vacant homes across the U.S. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
An excavator is used to pull debris off a building during efforts to retrieve the body of a deceased firefighter caught in the building’s collapse while battling a two-alarm fire in the vacant row home, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Baltimore. Officials said several firefighters died during the blaze. The U.S. Census estimates there are 17 million vacant homes across the U.S.

Baltimore City Fire emergency vehicle driver Jamaal Booker, second from right, holds balloons given to him by neighbor Darlene Cucina as a group of fire officials, from left, James Lamartina, Brian Petz, Justin Higley and Chris Hudson stand on a stoop across the street where three firefighters died in a building collapse while battling a two-alarm blaze in a vacant row home , Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Baltimore. Leaders in St. Louis and Baltimore are considering changes in dealing with fires at vacant homes after firefighters in both cities died at abandoned structures in January.  (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
Baltimore City Fire emergency vehicle driver Jamaal Booker, second from right, holds balloons given to him by neighbor Darlene Cucina as a group of fire officials, from left, James Lamartina, Brian Petz, Justin Higley and Chris Hudson stand on a stoop across the street where three firefighters died in a building collapse while battling a two-alarm blaze in a vacant row home , Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Baltimore. Leaders in St. Louis and Baltimore are considering changes in dealing with fires at vacant homes after firefighters in both cities died at abandoned structures in January.

FILE - Firefighters embrace each other after a deceased firefighter was pulled out of a building collapse while battling a two-alarm fire in a vacant row home, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Baltimore. Officials said several firefighters died during the blaze. The U.S. Census estimates there are 17 million vacant homes across the U.S. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
FILE – Firefighters embrace each other after a deceased firefighter was pulled out of a building collapse while battling a two-alarm fire in a vacant row home, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Baltimore. Officials said several firefighters died during the blaze. The U.S. Census estimates there are 17 million vacant homes across the U.S.

A fire official looks through a hole in a wall as officials try to retrieve the body of a deceased firefighter trapped in a building collapse while battling a two-alarm fire in a vacant row home, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
A fire official looks through a hole in a wall as officials try to retrieve the body of a deceased firefighter trapped in a building collapse while battling a two-alarm fire in a vacant row home, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Baltimore.

Firefighters stand in a line near an ambulance after a firefighter who died while battling a two-alarm fire in a vacant row home was pulled from the collapsed building, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Baltimore. Officials said several firefighters died during the blaze. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Firefighters stand in a line near an ambulance after a firefighter who died while battling a two-alarm fire in a vacant row home was pulled from the collapsed building, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Baltimore. Officials said several firefighters died during the blaze.

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FILE - An excavator is used to pull debris off a building during efforts to retrieve the body of a deceased firefighter caught in the building's collapse while battling a two-alarm fire in the vacant row home, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Baltimore. Officials said several firefighters died during the blaze. The U.S. Census estimates there are 17 million vacant homes across the U.S. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
Baltimore City Fire emergency vehicle driver Jamaal Booker, second from right, holds balloons given to him by neighbor Darlene Cucina as a group of fire officials, from left, James Lamartina, Brian Petz, Justin Higley and Chris Hudson stand on a stoop across the street where three firefighters died in a building collapse while battling a two-alarm blaze in a vacant row home , Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Baltimore. Leaders in St. Louis and Baltimore are considering changes in dealing with fires at vacant homes after firefighters in both cities died at abandoned structures in January.  (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
FILE - Firefighters embrace each other after a deceased firefighter was pulled out of a building collapse while battling a two-alarm fire in a vacant row home, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Baltimore. Officials said several firefighters died during the blaze. The U.S. Census estimates there are 17 million vacant homes across the U.S. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
A fire official looks through a hole in a wall as officials try to retrieve the body of a deceased firefighter trapped in a building collapse while battling a two-alarm fire in a vacant row home, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Firefighters stand in a line near an ambulance after a firefighter who died while battling a two-alarm fire in a vacant row home was pulled from the collapsed building, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Baltimore. Officials said several firefighters died during the blaze. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Investigators have determined that a blaze and partial collapse which killed three Baltimore firefighters in January was “incendiary,” deeming their deaths a homicide.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Wednesday that the two-alarm fire that erupted within a vacant building on Baltimore’s S. Stricker Street had been classified as incendiary in nature.



“ATF currently defines incendiary as a fire that is intentionally ignited or spread into an area where the fire should not be, and involves a violation of federal, state, local or tribal law,” the agency said. “Incendiary fires may also include fires that are not necessarily intentional, but directly result from other criminal activity.”

Separately, the Baltimore Police Department said the three firefighters’ manner of death had been determined as homicide. The State Medical Examiner’s Office found they had died from injuries sustained while attempting to extinguish the fire.

“We would like to thank members of the community who contacted ATF and our partners with information, as well as for their outpouring of support for Baltimore City Fire Department and the loved ones of these fallen heroes,” ATF Baltimore Special Agent in Charge Toni M. Crosby said in a news release.

“The incendiary classification is an important step forward in this investigation. We will continue to work alongside our partners to ensure a complete and thorough investigation is completed.”

Flames broke out just before 6 a.m. on Jan. 24 in a three-story vacant home on 205 S. Stricker Street, leading to a partial collapse which pinned four responding firefighters under debris.

Three of them — Lt. Paul Butrim, firefighter/paramedic Kelsey Sadler and EMT/firefighter Kenny Lacayo — lost their lives.

Federal investigators identified a person of interest after publishing surveillance footage of a man walking near the site of the fire.

On Wednesday, Baltimore police said city, state and federal law enforcement were continuing to investigate the case and did not release information about the individual or possible charges.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital reporter and editor in June 2018. He is a writer and photojournalist focusing on politics, political activism and national affairs, with recent multimedia contributions to Reuters, MSNBC and PBS.

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