Three-day fire at Dundalk facility that produces mulch is ruled arson

Plant's storage methods seen as unrelated to cause

September 25, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The huge woodpile fire that burned for three days last month at a Dundalk mulch production facility was intentionally set, Baltimore County fire officials said yesterday.

While the arson ruling does not clear the owners of Environmental Recycling Waste Reduction Co. of any wrongdoing, it does show that their methods of processing and storing wood materials didn't cause the fire. However, state environmental officials have not determined whether the company's operations contributed to the blaze, said Richard McIntire, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

"The focus is on making sure the place is safe," he said.

State environmental officials gave the company verbal approval to reopen the entire Sparrow's Point facility this month, McIntire said. Another inspection of the site is scheduled this week. Inspectors will be looking to see that the company has adjusted the height and spacing of wood and mulch piles to prevent fires at the plant and that it has finished cleaning up from the fire that began Aug. 8, McIntire said.

The Dundalk-based company received approval last month from the Baltimore County Fire Department to reopen the plant. The state had allowed the company to resume some recycling, in part to help complete the cleanup, according to inspection letters.

Testing of ash from old telephone poles and railroad ties that were used to produce mulch showed that no hazardous materials burned during the three-day fire, McIntire said. "That was good news," he added.

The plant owners said they were pleased to be back in business. "It's looking like we didn't do anything to contribute to it," said Steve Timchula, one of the owners. "We're real happy."

The company will continue to operate under a consent decree imposed by the state after a 1996 fire at the plant, McIntire said. The order requires the company to maintain specified distances between mulch mounds and to periodically turn its woodpiles to prevent spontaneous combustion.

In 1996, a fire in a 3-acre mound of mulch sent flames 100 yards into the air and smoldered for several days before burning itself out.

The state attorney general's office will review environmental inspections from the fire before determining whether to seek changes in those conditions, McIntire said.

More than 250 firefighters siphoned water from nearby Bear Creek to douse the flames in last month's fire. No arrests have been made in that blaze, said Capt. Glenn A. Blackwell, a county Fire Department spokesman.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.