By Mike Hellgren

BALTIMORE (WJZ) —  Police arson investigators are among those working to determine what caused a landmark building in Fells Point to catch fire.

Mike Hellgren reports on the loss of a major piece of Baltimore’s history.

The fire is out and now the cleanup begins after Fells Point lost a big part of its history.

Flames devoured the old Hecht’s Reliable store as 120 firefighters worked through blazing heat and blankets of smoke to get it under control.

“The smoke was so think you couldn’t see nothing. Your eyes were burning and you’re choking,” said Ron Burke.

“Kudos to the fire department who did such a wonderful job to contain that fire because it was raging out of control,” said Denise Whitman.

The four-story building was where it all began for the once-powerful retailer Hecht’s—one of the East Coast’s major department store chains founded by German immigrant Samuel Hecht Jr. Reportedly, the old tin ceilings and ornate light fixtures were still upstairs. The first floor was converted to a grocery long ago. It holds special memories for preservationist Denise Whitman.

“It broke my heart,” Whitman said. “My grandmother would go there and shop. It’s very sad and very devastating to the community to see something like that.”

What’s left is so unstable, inspectors say it could take days to determine how it ignited.

“It may not be fully ascertainable because of the amount of destruction in the fire,” said Kevin Cartwright, Baltimore City Fire.

“Yeah, it’s gone now,” said Carroll Brewer. “They said it was hazardous. I’ve lived here since around 1958. Actually, it helped to build the neighborhood.”

An anchor that’s now nothing but a shell.

It took firefighters more than four hours to get the flames under control. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries; they are recovering. Neighboring buildings were spared from serious damage.

Click here for a look at the fire slideshow. 


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