BALTIMORE (AP) — A rapidly intensifying blaze that engulfed multiple rowhouses in northwest Baltimore late Thursday afternoon left one firefighter dead and four others injured, city officials said.
The injured firefighters sustained varying degrees of burns and are receiving medical treatment, officials said at a news conference Thursday night outside Baltimore’s Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical System.
The Baltimore Fire Department has faced growing controversy in recent months over its policies and training after three firefighters died while battling a vacant rowhouse fire early last year. Local officials called for additional oversight of the agency and the department’s previous leader resigned amid the turmoil.
James Wallace, who was sworn in earlier this month as Baltimore’s new fire chief, said the blaze “appeared to rapidly grow in intensity” not long after firefighters arrived on scene.
“Tonight, it is with a heavy heart that I must announce one member has tragically perished as a result of his injuries,” he said, declining to release the firefighter’s name pending next of kin notification.
The two-alarm fire broke out just before 4 p.m., officials said. Footage from local television stations showed several rowhouses engulfed in flames, with parts of the structures collapsing and black smoke billowing from their windows and roofs.
No civilian injuries have been reported and the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Wallace said at least one of the buildings involved appeared to be occupied. He said investigators haven’t determined why the fire intensified so quickly.
“What I can tell you is, we attacked this fire like we attack many fires,” he said.
Hours before officials publicly confirmed the firefighter’s death, dozens of first responders gathered outside the Baltimore hospital for a salute. Many later accompanied a Baltimore Fire Department ambulance in a slow procession through downtown.
“Firefighters are our living superheroes, and we don’t expect to lose them,” Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby said during the news conference. “It’s a reminder of what firefighters do on a regular basis to protect and serve our city.”
The January 2022 fire that killed three firefighters prompted increased scrutiny of Baltimore’s fire department, which often is tasked with responding to treacherous conditions when flames break out in the city’s many vacant buildings.
A report released months later pointed to numerous deficiencies that could have placed firefighters in unnecessary danger when the three-story brick building collapsed. Among other issues, it found there was no program in place to notify firefighters about vacant and unsafe buildings before they made entry.
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