Early Sunday morning, hours after firefighters extinguished a warehouse fire in southwestern Baltimore, the scene was eerily quiet as Donte Craig worked his way through the charred rubble, trying to stay hopeful.
He was looking for his brother, James Craig Jr., who rented a warehouse for his demolition and transportation business. After hearing about the reported fire around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, the family became increasingly concerned throughout the night as James Craig Jr. did not respond to calls or emails.
Finally, his brother drove to the scene late Sunday morning.
Inside the building, they found the body of their 45-year-old brother on the second floor. Baltimore police have launched a murder investigation.
“I don’t know how dark it was, but if they had been up there, they would have seen his body.”“I would like to know what prevented them from entering there.”
As the investigation progresses, the family wants answers. They want to know how the firefighters initially failed to realize the building was occupied.
Their questions add to the growing controversy surrounding the Baltimore Fire Department and its policies under scrutiny after three firefighters died answering calls earlier this year. resigned in response to the investigation report.
Asked about the warehouse fire, officials said they had no reason to believe anyone was inside the two-story commercial building. They also said the building was ultimately deemed structurally unsafe for firefighters to enter.
However, the Craig family said there were signs of occupancy, including about half a dozen dogs spending the night in an adjacent pen. First responders took the dog to an animal shelter, according to the family. .
James Craig Jr. used the first floor of the warehouse as a workshop, but the second floor had a bedroom where he would sometimes stay after working late. According to his brother, he collapsed near the top of the stairs.
“He was trying to escape,” Donte Craig said in an interview on the scene Tuesday afternoon.
He pointed to the stairs leading to the second floor. Parts of the building were severely damaged by the flames, with some of the walls and floorboards reduced to charcoal and ash, while the metal staircase remained intact.
Donte Craig said he easily climbed the stairs on Sunday morning and found his brother’s body before reaching the top. He wondered why the firefighters had not made similar efforts.
“My son was upstairs,” his father, James Craig Sr., told CBS Baltimore. “He could have been unconscious at the time. They could have resuscitated him.” Yes, you know what I mean? And he’ll be alive now.”
The criticism comes amid existing chaos at the Baltimore Fire Department. Chief Niles Ford, who has led the division since 2014, resigned last week after an investigative report found a number of flaws. This is a survey of the ministry’s response to the fire.
Findings include: There was no program to notify firefighters of vacant or unsafe homes, nor standard procedures for fighting fires in vacant homes or coordinating his EMS response. The report also notes a culture of competition among firefighters that may have led to increased risk-taking.
In that case, there were signs of previous fires and structural instability, but firefighters entered the building anyway, officials said.
Baltimore’s concentration of vacant buildings poses a unique hazard for firefighters. An empty house in Baltimore is burning twice as fast as the rest of the country, according to a Baltimore Sun study, but record-keeping gaps limit what firefighters know before they go inside.
At the scene of a recent warehouse fire, firefighters entered the building first and “performed internal operations to fight the fire,” said department spokesperson Blair Adams. and safety officers found “visual signs of structural instability” and ordered an immediate evacuation. At that point, firefighters fought the fire from outside.
The fire was extinguished around 1 a.m. Sunday, officials said.
“There was no reason to believe anyone was inside,” Adams said in a text message on Tuesday.
She said firefighters were again at the scene on Sunday after the bodies were found. The Baltimore Police Department’s Homicide and Arson Division also responded. Authorities said the cause was still under investigation.
James Craig Sr. said he was not satisfied with the city’s response.
“I’m getting assumptions, but I’m not getting any facts,” he said Tuesday afternoon in a call with the homicide investigator in charge of the case. The reality is that I lost my son. That’s the reality of everything.”
A neighbor also told CBS Baltimore that he did not understand why the fire department did not search the building.
“I feel like they didn’t do their job that night,” said a neighbor. “They didn’t walkthrough. They didn’t do what they were supposed to do.”