BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Two fires were set on one block early Wednesday morning in the Abell community of North Baltimore.

Police said the first fire was set to a Pride flag hanging on from a porch on 31st Street. It was quickly extinguished by first responders, and nothing more than the flag was destroyed.

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The second fire was set across the street around the same time, and police say it was intentional. That fire tore through four rowhomes and sent three to the hospital with serious injuries. As of Wednesday night, only one remains in the hospital in stable condition.

But a neighborhood is now reacting to the destruction and fear these fires have caused.

“My housemate texted me… and said ‘oh my gosh there’s somebody burning pride flags, it happened five blocks from us,'” said Val Pizzo, a member of the LGBTQ community who has lived in the nearby Waverly neighborhood since 2017.

“We’re kind of targets all year long and maybe people who don’t like us are having to deal with us around pride,” he added.

“I think hate has been unleashed in this country and people have been emboldened to act on their hate,” longtime resident Ralph Moore told WJZ. “We’re in a very sad and serious time in this country, and we’ve all got to watch and be careful and we’ve got to resist this ugliness and hatred as much as we can.”

Organizers in this close-knit community now plan to flood the neighborhood with Pride flags, according to Flags For Good, an Indiana-based organization that provides flags to certain causes.

Another neighbor, Vonnie, asked WJZ not to use her last name out of safety concerns. She said she knows two of the injured victims. 

“For god sake leave people alone. Just leave people alone. You don’t know how many people have been affected by this…This is a close-knit community and we will come through this and we will help each other out,” Vonnie said. “People are just trying to live their lives, and this is a place where people are comfortable. That’s part of what’s so shocking is like, ‘What!’ I mean people hang all kinds of flags out. We’re all just trying to help.”

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In an afternoon news release, Mayor Brandon Scott said it is too early to determine if the incident was a hate crime.

“[M]y agencies will bring every appropriate resource to bear to get to the bottom of this tragic event,” he said. “Regardless, I continue to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ community.”

Baltimore’s Pride Week begins next Monday.

Unique Robinson, Chairperson of Baltimore Pride 2022, said there are twenty-six events planned for the week. But the week culminates in next weekend’s pride parade, expected to be one of the biggest in the parade’s history.

“We’re expecting an even larger festival this year, ranging about 50,000, we’ve doubled our security,” Robinson said.

While Pizzo said the Waverly and Abell communities are LGBTQ friendly, Robinson said “we have to use our survival skills in many ways as queer people to know where its safe to exist.”

Part of that safety is what Pizzo said is what he’s fighting for when he shows up to Pride every year.

“The idea is to get rid of all that hate in the world but until it’s gone, we’re going to keep showing up to Pride,” he said.

Investigators from both the police and fire departments are getting assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI, officials said. The mayor called on residents to share any information, such as doorbell camera footage, they might have with authorities.

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Annie Rose Ramos