County remains stumped New strategies sought to douse Granite fire

Baltimore County has poured water on the smoldering stump dump in Granite, tried to smother it with chemicals, and even considered burying it and somehow turning the site into a park.

But now, faced with a court order to act, county officials are scheduled to meet Monday to try again to come up with some way of put out the fire. As always, the burning problem is money.


If no affordable plan can be found, County Executive Roger B. Hayden said the county may have to go back to court.

Although $1.6 million has been earmarked this year for extinguishing the fire, county officials say it won't be nearly enough. And estimates are that a plan to put out the fire by literally pulling it apart could cost as much as $6 million.


Mr. Hayden's idea of buying 35 acres of stump-dump land and converting it into a park also has proved to be beyond the county's financial abilities. "We don't have the money to buy it," said Mr. Hayden, who plans another visit to the site Tuesday just to see "what it looks like now."

James F. Jett's controversial Patapsco Valley Tree Farm and stump dump business has been a thorn in the sides of county and state government for nearly six years.

Located on 215 acres along the 8700 block of Dogwood Road in western Baltimore County, the 100-foot-deep repository of stumps caught fire early Feb. 2, 1991. Since then, the fire burning deep inside the huge pile has resisted attempts to smother it with foam or drown it with water.

Residents in the rural Granite area tried everything from legal suits to public demonstrations to stop the truck traffic from Mr. Jett's business. A court order by Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. stopped the traffic in August 1991.

The judge made the temporary order permanent in April, and ordered the county to douse the fire. Mr. Jett was ordered to level the site and scrape away all the stumps and debris.

Recent photographs of the fire have given Fire Chief Elwood H. Banister some cause for hope. Thermal pictures taken last week from a low-flying airplane show that the fire may have subsided in part of the dump. If so, a contractor may be able to put out the fire by smothering it with truckloads of dirt -- a decidedly less expensive solution, Chief Banister said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Jett's attorney, Michael P. Tanczyn, has filed court papers asking that the county be declared in contempt for failing to extinguish the fire.

Mr. Jett also is pursuing efforts to get county and state permits to allow his business to resume.


Once the fire is out and the old stumps removed, County Attorney H. Emslie Parks said, it may be possible for Mr. Jett to resume business.

But Mr. Hayden said he felt that was highly unlikely.

Whatever happens, Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley, whose 1st District includes the Granite area, said the county must extinguish the fire, whatever the cost.

"You find the dollars and you put it out," she said.