For several years now, Christmas tree farmer James Jett has made a nice profit by allowing parts of his 220-acre farm, at Dogwood and Wrights Mill roads, to be used as a dump. Up to 100 tractor-trailers a day ferried tree stumps and construction debris to the site near Patapsco State Park, infuriating neighbors alarmed by the heavy traffic. But until a fire was detected at the dump early last Saturday, the problem was strictly a local one.
By early Monday morning, dense smoke from Mr. Jett's farm reached downtown neighborhoods -- some 15 miles away -- setting off smoke detectors and puzzling sleepy residents. A little-noticed dump had suddenly become an area-wide health hazard. Yet this may only be the start. Because of the unusually warm weather, smoke has been rising to higher altitudes. Should a cold snap suddenly develop, smoke would cling closer to the ground, creating the possibility of respiratory difficulties.
"We are just in the early days. It will be going on for weeks," said Battalion Chief Ralph Nelson. All told, the county has eight pieces of fire apparatus and about 40 fire fighters -- from as far away as Essex and Dundalk -- at the site 24 hours a day. The cost to county taxpayers is not yet known, but Chief Nelson thinks it will be "staggering."