Attorneys for Baltimore County said in court papers filed yesterday that what concerns them most about the stump dump in Granite isn't that it has burned since Feb. 2.
It's that they think the fire is spreading.
County Attorney H. Emslie Parks filed a request yesterday for a court order to require the owner of the 35-acre dump near Granite to live up to a previous court order by clearing debris from sections where stumps are stored.
On Aug. 1, Baltimore Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. ordered James F. Jett, owner of the Patapsco Valley Tree Farm, to clear the debris around the burning area to levels that existed before he began accepting stumps.
In its request, county attorneys include aerial photos taken Oct. 10 "showing . . . expansion of the underground fire." An affidavit signed by the county fire chief says the ground around Mr. Jett's greenhouses is cracking and that a 10-foot-deep hole has opened up in the earth nearby because of heat from the underground fire.
"In my opinion, there is a grave danger of the fire spreading to the debris and stumps near the large chipper and to the area of the greenhouses," said Fire Chief Elwood H. Banister Jr. in the affidavit.
Michael P. Tanczyn, Mr. Jett's lawyer, said the county is claiming the fire is spreading only because his client alerted fire officials weeks ago to smoldering "chimneys" of smoke coming up from the ground near the greenhouses. "I don't think it's spreading," he said.
He said he will ask the court to require the county to put out the fire.
"They have a statutory responsibility for which we all pay for, to put out fire, and if they're going to press their case we intend to press ours," he said. "They can't have it both ways."
County officials, who have let the fire burn freely since March, have said that putting out the fire would cost at least $1 million.
But extinguishing it would make it easier to remove the stump piles, Mr. Tanczyn said.