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Explosion in Curtis Bay CSX coal silo shakes Baltimore, but so far no injuries reported, officials say

Heavy damage is seen on the coal transfer tower and north tunnel of the CSX Curtis Bay Pier.
Heavy damage is seen on the coal transfer tower and north tunnel of the CSX Curtis Bay Pier. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

An explosion at a CSX facility in South Baltimore Thursday morning sent police and fire department officials scrambling to Curtis Bay and shook residents in neighborhoods across the city.

Firefighters were called to 1910 Benhill Ave. in Curtis Bay where an explosion occurred at the CSX Coal Plant Building, police spokeswoman Det. Chakia Fennoy said. Residents across the city reported on Twitter that the blast could be felt miles away.

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No injuries were reported and no contractors were inside at the time of the explosion, fire department spokeswoman Blair Adams said.

Firefighters were on the scene monitoring for collapse, Adams said. The explosion resulted from the transport of coal, she said.

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The coal was on a conveyor belt at the facility where coal dust buildup resulted in an explosion, Adams said. “There’s no impact or risk to the community,” Adams said.

Justin Helms, who lives near the Curtis Bay facility, was outside walking his dogs with his wife when the blast rocked his neighborhood.

Helms said he initially feared there had been a bombing. Puddles of water from the earlier rain shook from the force “like the T-Rex scene from Jurassic Park.”

”We just tried to brace ourselves looking around to see what happened while windows were busting out of houses,” he said. Helms said his house did not appear to be damaged, but several neighbors lost windows.

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Helms said he previously worked for a contractor that cleaned the silos at the CSX Coal Pier and employees were repeatedly warned that the materials inside were potentially explosive.

The facility is filled with tunnels, Helms said, and he worried that people were inside during the blast.

”I would hope, because they have monitoring things, that they knew something was liable to happen, but you know there’s always errors,” he said.

Smoke can be seen from an explosion at the CSX Cole Plant Building in Curtis Bay.
Smoke can be seen from an explosion at the CSX Cole Plant Building in Curtis Bay. (Justin Helms)

Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello wrote on Twitter that a propane tank had exploded.

“The loud noise from around 11:35 a.m. was a propane tank explosion at the CSX Coal Pier in Curtis Bay. OEM, BPD, BCFD, and CSX are all on scene,” Costello wrote. “The explosion is isolated to the CSX property, no impact or risk to community, no reported injuries, and cause is unknown at this time.”

Cindy Schild, director of media relations and public affairs at CSX, said: “All employees are accounted for and there were no injuries as a result of this incident. CSX appreciates the swift response of the Baltimore Fire Department. The cause of the incident is under investigation.”

David Makarovick, left, building owner of 4810 Curtis Ave. puts up plastic sheeting to cover a broken window for renter Dennis Bright. Windows on buildings on Curtis Ave. were blown out by an explosion at a coal storage facility.
David Makarovick, left, building owner of 4810 Curtis Ave. puts up plastic sheeting to cover a broken window for renter Dennis Bright. Windows on buildings on Curtis Ave. were blown out by an explosion at a coal storage facility. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Dennis Bright, 69, who lives in an apartment above Jim Dandy’s Tavern across Curtis Avenue from the CSX facility, said the windows broke simultaneously and he knew it was an explosion right away.

When he ran onto his deck, he saw a “big billow of smoke” at the plant.

The explosion left shards of glass littering the sidewalk along Curtis Avenue, as neighbors chatted amongst themselves about what had happened.

”It rattled this whole place,” Bright said.

Sandra Higgins, who lives on Cherry Street, was on her back porch when it happened and first thought her neighbor had struck a gas line. Then she noticed the clouds of smoke coming from the direction of CSX.

”It was like the shockwave went up the alley,” Higgins said. A window shattered at her home and the frame was damaged.

She said it was “amazing” nobody was injured. “When that first happened, that cloud of smoke? It was bad. It was really bad.”

Chad Starr, a mechanic with nearby Brooklyn Auto Services, said he and colleagues initially thought something — a helicopter, possibly — had hit their building.

They ran outside and saw black smoke rising from a building at the CSX facility.

”It was scary, it really was,” Starr said. “It shook us. It shook me, my boss, all of us. We’re all still shook.”

”I’ve been in an earthquake and it wasn’t even like that,” Starr added.

A fixture fell from the ceiling inside the mechanic shop but there was no other immediate damage.

Patrick Galliher, Starr’s coworker, said until recently he was employed by a company that cleans up inside the CSX plant.

“That could’ve been me inside that tunnel,” he said. “It’s a real eye-opening situation. You get scared.”

This story will be updated.

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