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Remodeled wood shop at historic property on East Broadway in Bel Air damaged by weekend fire

A historic structure on East Broadway in Bel Air that had been remodeled as a wood shop caught fire Saturday, possibly due to the failure of lithium-ion batteries stored there, fire officials said.

The structure on the 100 block of East Broadway was reported to be ablaze around 11:44 a.m. Saturday, according to the Office of the State Fire Marshal. The Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company responded and took about 15 minutes to control the fire.

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Nobody was injured or killed by the flames, but the building suffered $5,000 of structure damage and $25,000 worth of damage to its contents, the fire marshal’s office reported. A number of power tools were in the structure when it caught fire, Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver Alkire said.

Bel Air spokesperson Patti Parker said the property was historically designated in 1987 as the Wilgis-Bennett House. The structure that caught fire Saturday was originally constructed as a frame barn with sliding carriage doors and a horse stall, she said — “the 18th century equivalent of a two-car garage.”

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The property owner is a cabinet maker by trade and had recently remodeled the structure into a wood shop, Alkire said.

Parker said it was sad to see pieces of town history damage or destroyed.

“While outbuildings like this barn/carriage house used to be more common, very few exist today in the Town of Bel Air,” Parker said.

A wood shop on a historic property along East Broadway in Bel Air was damaged by a fire on Saturday, June 5.
A wood shop on a historic property along East Broadway in Bel Air was damaged by a fire on Saturday, June 5. (Courtesy Bill Snyder, Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company)

The preliminary cause of the fire is still under investigation, but investigators cannot rule out failure of lithium-ion batteries as a cause. The fire originated on the structure’s first floor, Alkire said, around the area where the property owner had placed two such batteries.

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Alkire said that lithium-ion batteries can present a hazard if they are improperly stored or left on the charger for too long. He encouraged people to follow the manufacturer’s safety recommendations.

“Lithium-ion batteries are a work in progress,” Alkire said. “They can be volatile if improperly used or stored incorrectly.”

Alkire said he could not enter the building to investigate because of safety and structural concerns.

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