BALTIMORE — Five homes - three of them vacant - went up in flames in South Baltimore along South Hanover Street Tuesday morning.
Fire crews worked for hours to contain the blaze that burnt one of the homes to the ground — along with part of another.
At one point, sparks flew from the light pole just feet away that was captured by a neighbor who watched it spread from house to house.
“It was just awful. The fire was shooting up out of the house and I heard a bunch of fire trucks coming down, woke us up at 4 o clock in the morning,” the neighbor said.
According to records, three of the five homes were classified as vacant while one was considered occupied by the owner and the other one licensed for rental.
While it’s unclear how the fire started, WMAR-2 News caught up with one of the owners on scene surveying the aftermath.
“The last one in the corner, 3640, it’s completely burned up,” said Cristobol Portillo, who has owned the property for about 18 years.
The fire department said no one, including firefighters, were injured because of how the crew put out the fire.
"The way we handle vacant homes is always going to be on the forefront of our mind," Blairs Adams, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore City Fire Department said. "The way we handle vacant homes is always going to be on the forefront of our mind. When we arrived, we had vacant homes that were fully involved, we immediately began an exterior operation so we did not have any of our members have interior operations fight this fire."
Crews from Anne Arundel County are assisting with this fire. Crews say they had to cut power in the area because of burning wires.
Since 4:30am, #BCFD has been on the 3600 blk of S. Hanover St w/multiple homes on fire. A total of 5 homes: 4 vacant and 1 occupied are involved, with a partial collapse. No injuries reported. pic.twitter.com/VOJYZQsweC— Baltimore Fire (@BaltimoreFire) June 14, 2022
Portillo said he already has his suspicions on what may have happened.
“When I come driving through to check my address, I see people in and I ask them the question, what do they do here? And they say something, I have to do because we can’t do it in public. I don’t know what it is,” he said.
Portillo said this isn’t the first fire he has been through. The last time, in November, he said he took every measure to ensure it didn’t happen again.
“I call the city, the city tells me you need to board it up and put the safety gate in the back to make sure it’s safe," Portillo said. "I go to the store and get the best one of pop locks and the chains also and I did. And worked it out. They’re not going that way."
BREAKING: 3-alarm fire just south of the Hanover Street Bridge. Hanover St at 895 area closed as firefighters attack the fire from ladder trucks. There are crews here from @BaltimoreFire as well as @AACoFD @WMAR2News pic.twitter.com/kiedZPdclx— Abby Isaacs WMAR (@AbbyIsaacsNews) June 14, 2022
Portillo said he tried to secure his place correctly but suspects his house wasn’t the squatters’ entry point.
“Through another house, my neighbor house and I don’t have control of the people over there,” said Portillo.
District 10 City Councilwoman Phylicia Porter shared a statement on the fire:
“This has long been a safety issue across both my district and the entire city. As a city we have to double down on enforcing citations and fines surrounding legal action against absentee property owners.”
Portillo said he’s worked hard to show the city he’s all but an absentee owner.
“I cleaned it up with my own vehicles, my own truck to take all of the trash out cause I wanted to make sure the city and inspector can see what I do but it’s not working out we couldn’t control the people inside,” he told WMAR2 News
The official cause of Tuesday's fire is still under investigation.