Winds drive water away

N.W. gusts drop harbor levels 2 to 4 feet, hindering a fireboat

Marinas also affected

Phenomenon, called a `blow out' tide, expected to abate today

January 18, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin and Tim Craig | Jennifer McMenamin and Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Sustained winds from the northwest blew the water right out of Baltimore and Annapolis harbors yesterday, leaving water levels so low a fire rescue boat did not respond to a Clinton Street dock blaze last night because of concern about weather conditions.

Pleasure boats at some marinas were grounded or tipped over in water levels estimated at 2 to 4 feet below normal while temperatures dipped to 18 degrees in the Baltimore metropolitan area, freezing waterlines needed to fight the fire on the Canton waterfront.

More from 60 firefighters from Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties battled the stubborn pier fire at Transcom Limited in the 1800 block of S. Clinton St.

About 1: 30 p.m., stevedores discovered the fire burning under a concrete pier built atop a crumbling wooden pier and called the Fire Department. About three hours later, a second alarm brought additional equipment, said Fire Inspector Michael Maybin, a department spokesman.

He said the cause of the fire was under investigaton and that one firefighter suffered a minor knee injury.

One fire rescue boat was held back because of weather conditions, but a fireboat made it to the scene and assisted firefighters in battling the blaze, according to Maybin, who said water pumper trucks were set up over hundreds of yards to provide water.

The fire burned for about five hours before being contained at about 6 p.m.

At 11: 20 p.m., fire again broke out on the pier and fire apparatus and a fire boat returned to the scene. The fire boat left when the crew discovered the vessel's water pipes were frozen.

Dipping temperatures late last night froze hydrants near the pier. Firefighters were expected to remain at the pier overnight to watch for additional flare-ups.

Two Mass Transit Administration buses were called in so that firefighters could warm up between shifts.

Transcom Limited officials would not comment on the fire.

In Middle River, Jack Levering of Long Beach Marine said the water level was the lowest he had seen in 50 years -- a "blow out" tide that occurs after several days of sustained, northwest winds of 30 mph or more.

Levels were expected to recover by this morning, as 29-mph gusts calm to 5 to 10 mph.

Yesterday's temperature dropped to 18 degrees at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, although blustery winds made it feel more like minus 12-degrees, said Andy Woodcock of the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

High temperatures reached 29 degrees at the airport, a day after the mercury had climbed to a springlike 59 degrees. The high in Baltimore was 30. Yesterday's normal high is 40 degrees, Woodcock said.

Temperatures are expected to remain below average for the rest of the week, with today's forecast calling for clouds, a chance of snow flurries and a high of 25 to 30.

Jockeys at the Laurel Park race course voted to cancel the last seven races yesterday because the weather was "not fit for man or beast," said Ann Taylor, a track spokeswoman.

"Going 40 miles an hour on a horse -- wearing little more than underwear -- is the scene I'm setting for you," Taylor said.

Although yesterday's weather was cold, it was nowhere close to a record-breaking temperature.

The lowest temperature on record for Jan. 17 was set in 1982, when the mercury fell to minus-7 degrees. The record high was set in 1913 at 68 degrees.

Low water levels caused problems around the state yesterday.

When Essex resident John Hogarth woke up with his feet higher than his head, he sensed his sailboat was in trouble.

"I knew because the wind had been blowing all night," he said at Anchor Bay Marina in Essex. "The water wasn't completely gone, but by the time I got back from the shower room and had a coffee, it was pretty nearly empty."

Hogarth's 25-foot sailboat, the Blue Angel, tipped and dipped and gradually leaned over on its side, spilling the contents of his shelves.

"My biggest fear was that it would fall over into the shed and bend the mast," Hogarth said.

By afternoon, more water had been drawn into Hopkins Creek, and the Blue Angel had righted itself. Other boats nearby remained grounded or frozen in slushy muck.

"You can see how far out it is," said Norman Parslow Jr., waving toward the bare shoreline of Hopkins Creek in Essex. "The tide's always lower in winter -- I guess it depends on the moon -- but she's a good 3 feet out farther than normal."

Sun staff writer Richard Irwin and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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