For the second time in less than two years, fire has burned down a hangar and destroyed seven privately owned airplanes at the Essex Skypark. The fire yesterday caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and placed the airport's future in jeopardy.
The official cause of the fire remains unknown, but sources said it may have been due to an electrical malfunction. Aviation fuel, oil and grease fed the flames. Arson investigators were to return to the scene today in an effort to pinpoint the cause.
The fire was reported shortly before 6:30 a.m. at the airpark at the end of Diffendal Road off Back River Neck Road. The hangar was fully engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived. Baltimore County firefighters from stations at Rockaway Beach, Essex, Middleborough, Hyde Park, Middle River, Golden Ring, Chase and Kingsville fought the single-alarm fire.
With no fire hydrants at the airpark, firefighters had to truck water to the scene or pump it in relays from hydrants on Back River Neck Road, more than a half-mile away.
By the time the fire was declared under control at 8:33 a.m., seven planes, the corrugated steel hangar, and airpark equipment and private property kept in the hangar had been destroyed.
The planes were valued at $30,000 to $100,000 each and were not insured or were underinsured, said Donald Crouse, airport manager.
Crouse said the future of the Essex Skypark was in jeopardy because two fires so close together would make people reluctant to keep their planes there.
Shortly after firefighters doused the flames, pilots rummaged through the remains of their planes, trying to salvage a part or two. In most cases, the engines were the only parts still recognizable.
Most of the planes were fiberglass, and simply melted where they stood.
Some pilots said they feared that another fire would strike the airpark and said they thought of moving their planes to an airport that has fire hydrants.
Yesterday's fire was similar to one on March 23, 1989, when a wind-whipped blaze fed by fuel and grease destroyed a hangar, seven planes, three tractors, two motorcycles, welding equipment, tools and a golf cart.
The exact cause of that fire remains unknown.
One of the planes destroyed then was a Steerman biplane valued at $40,000.