Conflagration Threatens Third of Baltimore's XXX District

BALTIMORE, Md.—As winter weather heads East bringing with it substantial snowfall, large conflagrations have enveloped large areas of urban Baltimore for the second day in a row, threatening, among other sections, the city’s historic red-light district, called The Block.

“Within seconds, dark clouds choked the bar on The Block, the city's storied red-light district in the heart of downtown,” the Baltimore Sun reported Monday, the fire spread quickly starting at about 3:30 p.m. “Young women clad in slivers of lingerie grabbed coats and dashed outside, as the first firefighters streamed water onto the blaze that would grow to engulf four buildings on East Baltimore Street.”

Jeff Jones, the owner of Blue Mirrors, told the paper, "We were trying to get the girls out as soon as possible without getting any indecent exposure charges. By the time I got to the top of the steps, I couldn't see the tip of my nose because of the smoke."

It was in the four-story building that houses the Blue Mirror that firefighters believe Monday’s fire started; it caused “extensive damage to four buildings and swept close to towering city office buildings—including the Fire Department's headquarters—prompting the evacuation of about 2,000.”

Tuesday, another 5-alarm fire broke out, at about 1:30 a.m., this time farther north on North Charles Street in the Mount Vernon area, heavily damaging several buildings and businesses in the process. There are no reports of injuries as a result of either blaze, but the Sun reported that while a third of the adult entertainment district was impacted, some businesses will reopen as soon as Wednesday while others will be closed for an extended period of time. It seems the fire, the cause of which remains under investigation, accomplished what the city has failed to do over the years.

“The last major attempt to shut The Block (and last time a significant number of clubs had to close for more than a day) came in January 1994 when then Gov. William Donald Schaefer ordered 500 state troopers to raid two dozen clubs after a lengthy investigation into drugs, prostitution and alleged corruption,” reported the Sun. “The raid led to the arrests of 87 people and prompted an investigation into the city's liquor board on allegations inspectors took bribes from club owners and that one board member was a secret owner of a strip joint.”

Ultimately, even the state troopers involved with the case were found to be corrupt, using investigation funds to “buy dancers furs and engage in other questionable activities,” leading to the removal of a top commander. The investigation sputtered to a halt and only five of the 87 defendants saw any jail time. Life returned to normal until the fire of 2010. Time will tell if the city uses this opportunity to try to squash the red-light district once and for all.