Mulch fire doesn't extinguish sales But blaze will cost Fireside Tom's

November 29, 1992|By Frank Lynch | Frank Lynch,Staff Writer

The fire smoldering since August that threatened to flare into a full-blown blaze at Fireside Tom's Forest Products last weekend apparently had little impact on business at the Joppa wood-chip and mulch company.

Less than 48 hours after nearly 100 firefighters and 50 pieces of fire equipment battled the series of hot spots in a huge pile of wood chips, it was almost business as usual Monday morning.

"We've already dispatched four truckloads of mulch," said Ken Engelke, whose brother Tom owns the company, located on Route 152 between Singer and Jerusalem Roads. "Financially, we suffered little in the way of product loss. The chips, burned or otherwise, can still be turned into mulch.

"The financial loss -- if any -- will come from the cost of battling the fire. More than a million gallons of water had to be trucked here and heavy earth-moving equipment from the county and a private contractor was used to spread the chips while firemen wetted them."

He said it may be weeks before the cost of putting out the fire can be calculated.

The 2 1/2 -acre site contained nearly 40,000 cubic yards of wood chips. In some areas the pile was 35 feet high. Usually, no more than 25,000 cubic yards of chips is stored here, but chips piled up because sales were off about 25 percent, Mr. Engelke said.

He said his brother stopped accepting deliveries from professional tree cutters "about a month ago" because the area had reached capacity.

The company's owner was unavailable for comment. He was hospitalized briefly Nov. 20 with a severe case of exhaustion.

According to Mr. Engelke, his brother had been battling the fire since August when it was apparently ignited by lightning.

He said that for the past three months his brother has taken every precaution to prevent what took place last weekend.

"He summoned the fire department on several occasions and then two weeks ago contacted the State Fire Marshal's office," said Mr. Engelke. "Infra-red photos showing the "hot spots" in the pile were taken from a state police helicopter and nearly 30 cans of [flame-retardant] foam were sprayed into the trouble area."

Mr. Engelke estimated that his brother spent $20,000 to $25,000 over the past two weeks "trying to extinguish the fire himself."

Tom Engelke has been in the mulch business for seven years and at the Joppa site since 1988.

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