Factory debris scrutinized

5-alarm fire damages Baltimore ice plant, closes major roads

No injuries reported in blaze

March 04, 2004|By Reginald Fields and Del Quentin Wilber | Reginald Fields and Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Fire officials began yesterday combing through charred debris left by a fire that swept through a huge, two-story ice factory in West Baltimore late Tuesday night and forced police to close two major roads through the evening rush hour yesterday.

Authorities said it is too early to determine the cause of the fire, which started about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Baltimore American Ice Co. plant in the 2100 block of W. Franklin St.

The blaze was brought under control about 6:30 a.m. yesterday by more than 100 firefighters, and officials reported no injuries.

Owners of the company could not be reached for comment, and it is not clear how many employees will be affected by the plant's damage.

As firefighters knocked down pockets of fire yesterday, police closed Franklin and Mulberry streets from Warwick Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, said Troy Harris, a police spokesman. The roads were still closed yesterday evening, Harris said.

Fire officials said the blaze spread and intensified within minutes of the first units arriving and racing inside the factory to try to extinguish the flames. Those firefighters were ordered to evacuate and within a half-hour, commanders had called out five alarms.

"It was bad," said Kevin Cartwright, a Fire Department spokesman. "We just poured deluges of water on the building."

An elementary school across a parking lot from the burning building was closed yesterday, and the area wreaked of ammonia, which is used to make dry ice at the plant.

Ammonia was leaking from tanks inside the building, but fire officials said the fumes were not dangerous.

Baltimore American Ice was in the news last in September, when Tropical Storm Isabel blew through the region, knocking out power and driving homeowners to scurry for dry ice to keep food from spoiling.

It was the second major fire at the ice-making company in three years.

In May 2001, a two-alarm fire heavily damaged the back portion of the plant.

Baltimore firefighters are being assisted in the investigation by a team of agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"They asked for our help because of the size of the building and the high dollar amount lost to the fire," said ATF Special Agent Kelly Long, a spokeswoman for the agency's Baltimore field office.

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