After visiting the burning tree stump dump in Granite, Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden said its operator probably won't qualify for a county permit he is seeking because he doesn't have the money to post a required bond.
Meanwhile, county environmental officials said a weather front expected today may blow away most of the smoke from the fire. It has wafted as far as eastern portions of the city and county and become an irritant for residents 20 miles or more from the blaze in western Baltimore County.
A portion of the huge mass of tree stumps continued to burn for the fourth day yesterday, as private contractors and county firefighters struggled to isolate the burning section and keep it from spreading to nearby woods.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer joined Hayden for an inspection late yesterday, equipped with rubber overshoes and his pants rolled up as he navigated the muddy terrain. He promised help in the form of state highway equipment and National Guard demolition expertise, if needed.
Noting that Baltimore County enacted regulations to cover dumps such as James A. Jett's in 1989, Schaefer said new statewide legislation may be necessary.
Jett, a Christmas tree farmer, is seeking a county permit under the new law now, and has been awaiting a county decision since a hearing in November.
Area residents for years have vehemently opposed the 220-acre operation in the 8700 block of Dogwood Road. They have complained about the traffic hazard posed by the heavy trucks that travel to the dump on the area's narrow, winding roads.
Although Hayden said he will take no personal role in the county permit process, he said that the law requires an operator to post a bond equal to the cost of cleaning the site. He said Jett doesn't have enough money to clear the 50 acres he has piled with stumps, dirt and logs in mounds as high as 100 feet. No set dollar amount for such a cleanup has yet been determined, however, county environmental officials said.
Hayden also said that contracting with Potts and Callahan for heavy equipment to help fight the fire is costing Jett $10,000 a day.
Police said yesterday that the cause of the fire is considered "suspicious" and may be arson. That was a slight step back from stronger statements by fire officials Monday that the cause was likely arson. Witnesses told authorities that they saw someone near the site before the fire broke out early Saturday.
Don Outen, acting director of the county Department of the Environment, said the smoke from the fire is an "irritant," but does not pose a health hazard.
Anyone bothered by the smoke or who has chronic respiratory ailments may want to stay indoors if the smoke lingers nearby, he said.
Michael Coughlin, a state air management official, said state inspectors are doing air and water sampling around the site. He applauded a decision by firefighters to stop pouring water in the area. Water increases the amount of smoke, ash and other particles carried aloft by the wind, worsening the air pollution, he said.
County fire officials considered explosives as a way to reach the burning center of the huge piles, but decided it was too dangerous and impractical, Battalion Chief Ralph A. Nelson said.
Nelson said officials are exploring the possibility of attacking the fire from underground by using a special, 40- to 60-foot long pipe through which water could be pumped. This pipe could be used to funnel water directly to the heart of the fire underground, instead of waiting the week or more it might take for the burning stumps to extinguish themselves.
Fire officials also have concluded that the natural features of the land are containing the water runoff from the hoses, so very little if any pollution of nearby Brice Run is expected, Nelson said.