A five-alarm brush fire swept near the Old Mill school complex in Millersville yesterday, sending four people to the hospital - three of whom suffered smoke inhalation in a school - before it was extinguished.
Whipped by the midday wind and fueled by dry debris, the smoky fire burned a 2-acre swath through a 4-acre patch of woods, working its way from Old Mill Road at Patriot Lane toward Crain Highway, said Anne Arundel County Fire Department Division Chief John M. Scholz.
He said it was the largest fire of its kind in the county this spring. The cause has not been determined.
The smoke caused 20 to 30 students to go to the health room at Old Mill High School, Scholz said. Most returned to their classrooms.
Two 15-year-old girls and a 40-year-old substitute teacher who reported feeling ill from the smoke were taken to North Arundel Hospital. Firefighter Richard Henry, who was suffering from exhaustion, also was taken to the hospital. Henry was treated and released, a hospital official said. The status of the other patients was unavailable.
The fire was noticed at 11:28 a.m. behind Ruth Parker Eason Special Education Center. Eighty-three firefighters from Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties fought the blaze.
The fire was brought under control at 12:51 p.m., although firefighters worked through the afternoon to extinguish smoldering embers and hot spots.
"What is making this very difficult to fight today is the high heat and low humidity," Scholz said.
The wind blew flaming bits of tinder, which spread the fire through the brush and required firefighters to pull greater lengths of hose through the woods, he said.
"Rain does a good job of getting down into the soil. But you get a sunny day and a little wind, and the top layer dries out. What you might see as leaves, we see as fuel," Scholz said.
Recent rains helped make the fire smoky.
The fire did not cause any serious problems at the school complex, said Tony Ruffin, schools spokesman.
Scholz said the cause of the fire was unknown.