Blazes keep fire departments busy over weekend

Anne Arundel County firefighters still putting out flames

February 20, 2011|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

Dozens of Anne Arundel County firefighters worked Sunday to contain remaining pockets of a huge blaze that broke out in a remote area south of Odenton early Saturday, said Capt. James Rostek, spokesman for the Fire Department.

High winds that drove the flames on Saturday — when the blaze reached five alarms — had died down Sunday, but firefighters were still putting out hot spots with more than 50 pieces of equipment, including bulldozers and brush units, which hauled water from a fire hydrant five miles away.

An aerial inspection Sunday afternoon by a police helicopter revealed that about 600 acres were affected, a much larger area than the 100 acres estimated to have been involved when the fire began Saturday, Rostek said. He added that firefighters could be battling flames into Sunday night — at least.

"I do believe it's going to burn for a couple of days," Rostek said as he toured the charred woods, where pockets of small flames were still visible Sunday afternoon.

"It's a huge area," he said. "I don't know if they're going to ever be able to figure out where it started."

High winds, which reached between 48 mph and 63 mph on Saturday, spread the blaze; one of the brush fires near Interstate 95 forced it to close for several hours on Saturday. The winds also left thousands of area residents without power and water.

Stephen Konarik, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the area was vulnerable to fires not only because of the wind but also because the ground is dry. The combination put the area at high risk for the spread of fire, he said.

Residents along Grays Ford and Myers Station roads in Odenton, where the fire was most severe, surveyed the land around their homes Sunday afternoon.

Melissa Kittleson, who lives off Grays Ford Road —about 100 yards from where fires were still smoldering — said that as the flames intensified Saturday, she and her husband gathered up their two sons, two dogs, two hamsters and lizard and cleared out.

The family stayed with friends for the night. "We didn't sleep much," Kittleson said, adding that at around 5 a.m. Sunday they returned to their home of five years to find it still standing.

Kittleson used to live in California, where wildfires are common, but she said she's become used to another natural inconvenience in Maryland.

"It was odd," she said. "Usually our disaster of the day is snow."

Roger Anderson, who lives along Myers Station Road, was in Pennsylvania when he received a call about the fire.

His friends went to his home to collect his valuables and pets, he said. By the time he got back Saturday night, the woods and the land surrounding his house were ablaze.

"I said, 'Man, this whole place is going to go up,' " Anderson said as he looked over his charred farmland. "It started really rolling through here. But [the firefighters] got right in there and knew what they were doing. It was wild up here, though."

Some firefighters battled the fire about 25 feet from his back porch, while others contained the flames rolling through the farmland in front of his home, said Anderson, who grows corn on about 14 acres. He is hopeful that he'll have nice tall crops in the spring, now that the blaze has burnt out dead organic material.

Rostek said that the fire strained his department's resources and that neighboring jurisdictions, from Baltimore County to Harford County to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, sent equipment and personnel to help. Besides the brush fire, Anne Arundel firefighters received 269 calls on Friday and Saturday, he said. At least three were multialarm blazes.

"We still don't have a handle on how many fires might be smoldering elsewhere," Rostek said.

Throughout Saturday, as winds howled throughout the region, fire officials in Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Harford and Prince George's counties raced to extinguish more than a dozen brush fires. On Sunday, the fires had abated and no serious injuries were reported.

Rostek said Anne Arundel will quickly bounce back from the brush fires. "Mother Nature takes care of her own," he said.

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