BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The deaths of three Baltimore firefighters killed in the partial collapse of a vacant rowhouse have been ruled homicides, police said Wednesday.

The January fire that led to their deaths has been ruled as incendiary, and a person of interest has been identified.

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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Baltimore Division, which is leading the investigation with other agencies, defines an incendiary fire as a fire that is intentionally ignited or spread into an area where the fire should not be.

Incendiary fires may not necessarily be intentional, but directly resulted from other criminal activity.

“The incendiary classification is an important step forward in this case. We will continue to work alongside our partners to ensure a complete and thorough investigation is completed,” said ATF Baltimore Special Agent in Charge Toni M. Crosby.

The person of interest in the investigation has been identified and no additional tips from the public are needed, said the ATF. The identity of the person has not been announced.

“While it was a tragedy, it’s now going to get the focus of a homicide investigation,” Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said.

On Jan. 24, fire crews were called to the scene of a two-alarm fire at a rowhouse on South Stricker Street. A partial building collapse trapped six firefighters inside

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Three firefighters — Lt. Paul Butrim, firefighter/paramedic Kelsey Sadler, and EMT/firefighter Kenny Lacayo — were killed in the collapse.

 

“When you have a fatality, in particular a firefighter fatality, you want to be sure you get it right,” retired ATF fire investigator Robert Schaal told WJZ Wednesday. “When you have an incendiary fire, it means that it was intentionally set. There’s human involvement.”

Schaal says these types of investigations are usually slow and can be complex. He says the fact the fire was in a vacant building with previous fire damage complicates the investigation.

“Probably trying to delve into previous investigations to see if there’s pictures to know what was old and know what’s new,” Schaal said.

John McMaster was critically injured, but he was well enough to be released from Shock Trauma three days after the incident. McMaster threw out the first pitch at the Baltimore Orioles’ home opener Monday.

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The investigation remains ongoing.

Paul Gessler