Smoldering Dump Fire

February 23, 1991

Baltimore County's handling of the dump fire in Granite does not instill confidence in the Hayden administration.

When the fire was still limited to a small portion of the private landfill, the county refused help from Baltimore City. That refusal was not based on objective criteria but on county fire officials' interpretation of what the manning level of city fire crews should be. The county thus interfered in a contentious labor dispute between the city and its firefighters' union and violated the spirit of a mutual aid agreement. These actions proved harmful. Whereas the fire may have been containable when the city offered help, the county's refusal allowed flames to spread to most of the five-acre landfill.

The county then brought in a Missouri fire expert who tried to douse the burning debris with foam. Ten days and $23,000 later, his efforts were pronounced useless. "It's a very deep-seated fire," a county fire official said. "With the foam, we weren't really getting down to where the fire is burning, so the foam just wasn't doing us any good."

The best guess now is that the dump fire may have to be allowed to smolder for a year or more until it finally can be contained or burns out.

This is a worrisome prospects for residents from Catonsville to Randallstown. Putrid smoke has been part of their lives since early this month, when the fire was first reported. The situation is likely to get much worse when warmer weather comes. Many area residents will have to limit their outdoor activities. Those who have lived without air conditioners may have to go to the expense of buying cooling units because the smoke will prevent them from keeping their windows open. It will pose an especially alarming concern for individuals with respiratory problems.

There may be little that can be done at this point to put out the fire quickly. But the Hayden administration ought to look into allegations that the fire did not begin this month but in fact has been smoldering since September. These allegations are particularly damaging in light of information collected by Councilwoman Berchie Manley that suggests a county fire inspection conducted in October turned up a number of safety violations at the dump site but that the owner, James F. Jett, was not cited until Jan. 31.

These are troubling questions that require prompt answers.

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