The Maryland Forest Service is investigating the cause of a Tuesday brush fire in Reisterstown and Owings Mills that quickly sparked into the largest fire in Baltimore County’s recent memory.
Firefighters from across the state responded to the 700-acre wildfire and successfully prevented the flames from damaging any homes.
“The only true natural cause of wildfires in the state of Maryland is lightning. Other than that, it’s all human-caused,” Maryland Forest Service Fire Specialist Gilbert Wagner said at a news conference. “Whether it is accidental or somebody trying to burn something down, they’re all human-caused.”
The eight-alarm fire, which started after 3 p.m. in the 5100 block of Deer Park Road and spread into the Soldiers Delight Natural Environment area, drew over 200 personnel — the largest response in the county since a major fire at a propane facility in the 1970s, according to Baltimore County spokesperson Elise Armacost.
The Maryland Forest Service says it responds to an average of 123 wildfires that burn more than 1,780 acres of forest, brush and grass each year.
This year, BWI Marshall Airport has measured 5.7 inches of rain compared to an average of 10.5 inches. Wagner said the state is at risk of seeing more brush fires until significant rainfalls.
Wednesday morning, Maryland National Guard helicopters carrying 250-gallon balloons of water were still dousing hot spots around Soldiers Delights and sparse surrounding neighborhoods where 29 homes were evacuated.
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As residents fled, they said Wednesday they feared for their homes.
“We’re used to brush fires and burns in this area, but the smoke started to be a lot. We drove up the street to try to look at it, and that’s when we noticed the severity of it. We could see the flames and that it was spiraling out of control,” local Josh Gonder said. “Before you knew it, it was right across the street at my neighbor’s house. It was like right there, and the fire department was like, ‘You guys gotta leave.’”
Gonder, who co-owns Peter’s Body Shop and lives a few hundred yards down the road from where fire personnel set up their makeshift command center, said he had time to grab his two dogs, but as he fled, his thoughts turned to a family heirloom — a 410 shotgun passed down through the family for five generations — left inside his home.
“I thought my house was going to burn down for sure. There was fire on both sides of my house. I thought for sure my neighbor’s house was going to be gone. The fire was right there,” Gonder said.
Firefighters deployed traditional fire engines, as well as ATVs and pickup trucks with 5,000 gallon tanks to supply water and drive personnel to the fire lines, which included grass and patches of forest. Only one firefighter suffered a minor injury.
Wednesday afternoon, crews marked a perimeter around the fire by cutting away any flammable materials.
“We have bulldozers putting in fire lines. We’re taking the fuels down to the soil that won’t burn,” Wagner said. “We’re going to do a perimeter. The center of the fire might smoke and burn for a week or two weeks, and that’s fine as long as it’s not outside those lines.”