Week In Review

March 19, 2006

Annapolis

Barge crashes into bridge

An unmanned barge floated out of control Tuesday and crashed into the Severn River Bridge north of Annapolis, halting traffic over a key link with the Eastern Shore for more than two hours while the barge was untangled and inspectors determined the span was structurally sound.

After receiving a 911 call about a barge adrift near Luce Creek, the Coast Guard contacted Maryland State Police, who stopped traffic over the six-lane bridge at 10:25 a.m.

Seven minutes later, according to Coast Guard logs, the barge -- owned by Langenfelder Marine in Stevensville -- hit one of the bridge supports, knocking out a piece of concrete.

"It's like a freight train when that barge starts moving -- it's hard to stop," said George Ward, the Annapolis deputy harbormaster, who used his patrol boat to keep the barge from floating free again as officials waited for a tugboat. Investigators are trying to determine what caused the barge, with its load of rocks, to drag its moorings near Luce Creek on the river's Annapolis side and drift a few hundred yards into the bridge. The owner of the barge did not return calls for comment.

No one was injured, but drivers were inconvenienced, stuck in their cars for hours as U.S. 50 turned into a parking lot and the few alternate routes were packed with those searching for ways around the snarl.

Maryland section, Wednesday and Thursday, March 15-16

Millersville

Brush fire burns nature preserve

Anne Arundel County firefighters, hauling water in backpacks and dragging more than a third of a mile of hose, vanquished a blaze in a nature preserve Thursday. It was likely the largest of dozens of brush fires sparked last week from the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland amid high winds and low humidity.

"This is a once-a-year type of thing -- or really a once-every-few-years thing," said Stuart D. McNicol, division chief for the Anne Arundel County Fire Department. The department sent about 125 firefighters scrambling into hilly terrain as flames rising more than 10 feet burned vines, stumps, grass and fallen branches across 100 acres in the Severn Run Natural Environment Area, a 1,700-acre state preserve.

The blaze was contained by late afternoon, but crews remained on hand into the night to extinguish the last of the smoldering spots.

A county firefighter suffered a minor respiratory injury and was treated at Baltimore-Washington Medical Center.

Plumes of white smoke from the blaze could be seen for miles, blowing over Interstate 97 and Veterans Highway, occasionally stalling traffic, said Lt. David D. Waltemeyer Jr., a county police spokesman. The heavy smoke obscured the sun and carried postage stamp-sized chunks of ash through the air. Every 30 minutes, a helicopter -- from either the state or Anne Arundel County Police -- would take off or land.

A separate fire scorched 17 acres of woods and brush in Prince George's County.

Maryland section, Friday, March 17

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