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Joppa auto business cited for violations after fire injures employee, damages vehicles Monday

Firefighters were able to avoid a potentially dangerous situation Monday afternoon when they controlled a fire at a Joppa automotive business where tanks of gas used for welding were present that could have ignited and exploded, fire officials said.

Though three vehicles parked at the site were engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived, they did prevent what may of been serious injuries and much more property damage, those at the scene said.

The business where the fire occurred was later ordered to shut down, after being cited for multiple fire violations and operating without proper licensing, the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office reported. As of Tuesday afternoon, however, there seemed to be some confusion about those orders.

The fire, which investigators said was caused by an employee drilling into a junked vehicle's gas tank, injured the employee and damaged multiple vehicles at Maryland Used Auto Parts in the 1000 block of Pulaski Highway.

Firefighters from Harford and Baltimore counties were initially called at 2:04 p.m. Monday for what was originally broadcast on the Harford County emergency radio network as a "working building fire."

The burning vehicles were parked at the rear of the property near a building. According to Harford Fire Blog on Facebook, Harford County Hazmat was called immediately because of a potential for explosions from acetylene and oxygen tanks used for welding.

Firefighters said smoke from the vehicles went into the adjoining building. Photos from the scene showed several vehicles on fire.

'Considered hazardous'

The Harford County Hazmat Team was requested because oxygen tanks and fuel tanks were involved, Andy Doyle, spokesman for the Joppa Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company, said.

"We had to use caution because some of the materials were considered hazards," Doyle explained.

It took firefighters from Aberdeen Proving Ground Fire Department and Joppa-Magnolia, Kingsville, Abingdon, Fallston and Bel Air volunteer fire companies about 30 minutes to put out the fire, Doyle said.

Traffic on eastbound Route 40 (Pulaski Highway) was detoured around the fire scene while the fire was brought under control and deputy fire marshals checked over the property.

An employee, Todd Smith, 49, was drilling a gasoline tank when a spark ignited fuel vapors, according to the news release from the Fire Marshal's Office, issued Monday evening.

Smith was taken to Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital suffering from non-life threatening burn injuries, Andy Doyle, public information officer for the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company, said.

Smith was not at the hospital Tuesday afternoon, a hospital spokesperson said.

Damage to the building and three vehicles was estimated at $10,000, according to the Fire Marshal's Office.

Violations cited

Following the fire, the business was ordered to shut down by the county's Office of Inspections, License and Permits, Richard Lynch, the department's director, confirmed Tuesday afternoon.

"A lot of modifications had been done without proper inspection and certification," Lynch said, adding that "some structural aspects" of a building near where the fire occurred were compromised.

"We will certainly facilitate them getting up and running," Lynch added.

Maryland Used Auto Parts was cited for improper storage of items, open and spliced electrical wires, having fire extinguishers that were not maintained properly and out of date, improper spacing for passageways, missing doors in wall separations and not having a firewall, Bruce Bouch, spokesman for the State Fire Marshal's Office, said.

But Maryland Used Auto Parts manager Keith Derrickson said they were open Tuesday morning.

A storage building, which he said was the only area cited for violations, was expected to be cleared for use after an inspection later in the day, Derrickson said.

"It's just very minor stuff," he said of the violations. "We are in good shape."

The State Fire Marshal's Office had originally reported Monday the business was "temporarily closed until further notice."

Bouch said there is no fine for the violations, but he also noted the business also had no county use-and-occupancy license.

"Apparently they didn't apply for it at all," he added.

Derrickson had said Monday afternoon that the fire caused no real loss, as "we were going to take them [the damaged vehicles] for junk, anyway."

Aegis staff member Matt Button contributed to this article.

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