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'I saw fire coming down': Neighbors displaced by vacant house fire want city to address blight issue

Neighbors displaced by vacant house fire want city to address blight issue
Posted at 9:25 PM, Dec 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-09 23:13:47-05

BALTIMORE — Another vacant house fire leaves nearly a dozen people without a place to sleep tonight. 

WMAR-2 News' Dave Detling spoke to those impacted and problems created by vacant homes.

Not only do these homes cause blight but when they catch fire, they pose a danger to the people living next to them.

George Johnson said he escaped last night with the clothes on his back. As for the vacant homes, he wants the city to do more.

Popping his trunk George Johnson shows off what he was able to grab as he ran out of his home at 707 East 21 Street Wednesday around 9:00 p.m.

"Basically all of my shoes, and a shirt," John said, pointing to his collection of kicks. "A lot of stuff you can replace I’m glad I have my health."

Johnson lived on East 21 Street for five years until last night when the vacant house next door caught fire and spread to two row homes. His car is his current home.

"I had to get out as quick as I could," said Johnson. "I thought it was raining then but when I looked out the window I saw fire coming down and I knew it wasn’t raining, so yeah, like you said, I grabbed whatever I could."

Six other people in the three-story house are also without a place to live. Johnson rented a room on the second floor.

A home on the opposite side where the fire broke out were also impacted.

"I took a lot of their stuff into my house like their Christmas toys," said Lynn McClary. "It's what you do. You help your neighbor out in whatever way you can. We're holding onto the things so that the kids would have a Christmas."

McClary said her neighbors, a mother with young children are currently at a hotel.

"I wasn't home when it happened," she said. "A neighbor called and said the whole block was on fire. I rushed over here last night. It was just a mess."

The concern on the block and throughout Baltimore are the 15-thousand vacant or abandoned buildings and the dangers they pose.

"They need to they need to step up do more property checks," said Johnson.

The concern is that what happened last night will keep occurring, hurting innocent families.

"Boarding them up nice and tight so that people can’t get into them," said McClary.

While it's unclear what caused the fire in East 21st Street, other neighborhoods have seen buildings light up because of squatters or the homeless looking for a place to stay warm.

That was the case last week with a fire on Argyle Avenue that spread to four homes, two of which were vacant and the other two occupied.

"My mom had been calling trying to get them to come and board up the house because those junkies had been going in there," a neighbor told WMAR-2 News. "No luck and it just so happened they set the house on fire. They need to be torn down."

Neighbors agree that something needs to be done.

"You never can tell what can happen with these homes," said Johnson. "You don’t know if someone’s breaking in or sleeping in there or if they're unwanted."

WMAR reached out to both the Baltimore City Fire Department and the Department of Housing to see how many vacant house fires crews have battled over the past three years. We also asked about property inspection protocol. We haven't heard back but will keep you updated when we get a response.

If you have a community issue that you want highlighted reach out to reporter Dave Detling. You can email him at