Strong winds fan flames contributing to brush, building fires across the state

Several minor injuries reported

February 20, 2011|By Erica L. Green, Jessica Anderson, Frederick N. Rasmussen and Ed Gunts, The Baltimore Sun

Dozens of Anne Arundel County firefighters battled throughout the night to contain a five-alarm blaze that broke out just south of Odenton on Saturday, said Capt. James Rostek, spokesman for the fire department.

"We've been hitting hot spots all night long and the battle continues," Rostek said Sunday morning. High winds that drove the flames Saturday had died down by Sunday morning.

However, by Sunday morning the amount of affected land had grown from about 100 acres to between 200 and 300 acres, Rostek said. He added that 30 firefighters were still on the scene Sunday, along with "a considerable amount of resources," including bulldozers and brush fire engines. A county police helicopter was on its way to conduct an aerial investigation of the area, he said.

Rostek said firefighters could be battling flames into Sunday night.

The huge brush fire "has strained our resources," he said, adding that neighboring jurisdictions, from Baltimore County to Harford County to BWI airport, had sent equipment and personnel to assist the Anne Arundel firefighters.

In addition brush fire, Anne Arundel firefighters received 269 calls on Friday and Saturday, Rostek said. At least three were multialarm blazes, he said.

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

Meanwhile, other jurisdictions reported Sunday that brush fires had abated. Hundreds of firefighters had battled dozens of blazes across the state Saturday.

"Everything is fine, and everything is good because all of the other jurisdictions were right there ready to help out if they could," said Baltimore County firefighter Glenn Bitters. Bitters said the county responded to six fires on Saturday, when, he said, his "radio never stopped going off."

In Baltimore County, Holland Manor Assisted Living, where county firefighters responded to an electrical fire early Saturday, was back to normal on Sunday, manager Salah Sood said.

Sood said that none of the 11 residents at the Towson home was injured.

The fire started in the wall of the nearly 200-year-old home, but only smoke entered the interior of the house, he said.

"When the fire started on the first floor, it just went up really very fast because of the wind," Sood said. Sood said that all residents were out of the home by the time firefighters arrived. They were taken to area hospitals to be examined and were discharged without incident. The structure has some damage, but residents are back in the home.

"Everyone is fine and safe," Sood said. "The firefighters did a great job."

The high winds that fanned flames also left thousands without power and water and forced a section of Interstate 95 to close for hours on Saturday.

There were no reports of serious injuries in any of the fires.

Gov. Martin O'Malley said the state had "more brush fires than I can ever remember on one day."

O'Malley spoke with reporters in Richmond, Va., before giving his first major address as the head of the Democratic Governors Association. O'Malley said the response by various fire departments was "really good" and noted that a number of different counties worked closely together.

Fire equipment from as far as the Eastern Shore was used to fight blazes in Prince George's County. "It was not a bad way to make sure the mutual aid agreements work," he said.

The fires were buffeted by strong gusts of wind, which reached up to 48 mph at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport. The highest was 63 mph in Frederick County late Friday night.

Stephen Konarik, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the area was vulnerable to fires not only because of the winds but also because of the dry ground. These dry conditions, combined with the winds, put the area at high risk for the spread of fire, he said.

The high winds that hit Maryland were felt from North Carolina to southern New England, Konarik said.

In Washington, the 42-foot-tall National Christmas Tree, located between the White House and South Lawn for more than 32 years, snapped at its base Saturday.

Thousands of customers were without power Saturday in the Baltimore region, according to Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. spokesman Rob Gould. A State Highway Administration spokesman warned of numerous street lights going dark Saturday night because of power outages. And tens of thousands of homes and businesses along the Reisterstown Road and Liberty Road corridors were without water as a result of wind-related power outages, said Kurt Kocher, spokesman with the Department of Public Works.

Throughout Saturday, fire officials in Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Harford and Prince George's counties raced to more than a dozen brush fires throughout the area.

"I don't recall if we've seen anything of this magnitude," Howard County Assistant Fire Chief John Butler said.

One of the brush fires closed Interstate 95 in Prince George's County near the Capital Beltway for hours Saturday afternoon. The lanes reopened in the early evening.

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