If not for the Persian Gulf war, Baltimore County firefighters today might be bulldozing a 100-foot-high burning stump dump in Granite in an effort to put out the stubborn fire, instead of letting it burn.
Baltimore County Fire Chief Elwood H. Banister Jr. told the County Council yesterday that Maryland National Guard units were willing to use their bulldozers and other heavy equipment on the pile of tree stumps -- except that their heavy equipment has been shipped to the gulf to fight the Iraqi army.
The only alternative, Banister said, would be to pay private companies to bulldoze the huge mound at Patapsco Valley Farms, giving firefighters the opportunity to douse the pile a section at a time.
But it would be costly, he said.
One contractor said the job would cost $1.8 million and take three months to complete, Banister said. Another said it would cost $5 million and take six months to extinguish the fire in the four-acre pile of smoldering stumps and logs, he said.
The county already has spent $108,000 to fight the fire, which was reported Feb. 2.
"Money is a real issue in the whole scenario," said Merreen Kelly, county administrative officer.
Earlier bulldozing efforts to divide the burning stump mound cost the county $12,000 a day, the chief said. James Jett, owner of the Christmas tree farm, had paid for two days worth of bulldozing, or $24,000, he said.
Banister said most experts suggest bulldozing the pile or flooding it.
State and local environmental officials have ruled out flooding because that might damage Brice's Run, a sensitive stream near the dump.
Two firefighters are posted at the scene around the clock to watch the blaze, which is not producing any toxic fumes, Banister said.
Fire officials plan to let the fire burn for a couple of months, hoping the pile will reduce itself and making fighting the fire easier.
Nearby residents were very angry this week because Jett has been allowed to begin taking in more tree stumps, but Banister said Jett is under close scrutiny.
County officials asked Jett to make mulch of any new stumps and have it trucked elsewhere within 24 hours. Jett has agreed to do so, Banister said.
Every day, suggestions arrive on how to extinguish the fire, the chief said.
One woman suggested dumping baking soda on the pile. It always worked for small oven flare-ups in her home, she explained.
Another caller suggested hiring a Blackfoot Indian chief to do a rain dance.
"I've been in the fire service for 37 years," Banister said. "I have never experienced anything like this."