A string of fires set accidentally by a salvage company at the former Esskay plant in East Baltimore since March has angered city fire officials and drawn the attention of building inspectors.
City inspectors have issued a stop-work order, prohibiting R & B Salvage Co. in Edgemere from removing hundreds of tons of metal boilers and pipes from the 74-year-old plant.
The company was responsible for six fires at the plant in the past three months, fire officials said. The last, and worst, was a two-alarm blaze Thursday in which more than 60 firefighters and 15 fire vehicles were called to the former Esskay meat-packing site.
"It's a nuisance to have to return to the building for the same type of fire," said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a Fire Department spokesman. "It's not something we see very often."
Zack Germroth, a city housing spokesman, said a meeting of the building inspector, Fire Department and salvage company will be arranged to find a way to get the remaining hundreds of tons of metal salvage out of the building without causing a seventh blaze.
The company is owned by William Hasenei, who said he's been in business for 16 years. He said the job is inherently hazardous.
"The building is so old, it's a tough job. It's been left to decay for years," he said.
Mr. Germroth said officials may allow Mr. Hasenei's company to resume work under the condition that he pays to keep a firefighter at the scene while workers are on the job.
"Whatever they're doing now ain't working," he said.
The company has had other chances. Six days before the last flare-up, fire officials temporarily shut down R & B's operation.
They allowed the firm to resume work only after getting assurances that precautions would be taken, including removing combustible material from the work area and having at least two fire extinguishers near workers.
Not all of those precautions were followed, a fire official said. The fire Thursday started when a welder working for the salvage company was dismantling a piece of equipment. Sparks from the welder's equipment ignited flammable material nearby.
Clutter inside includes giant slabs of plastic material and piles of trash. Mr. Hasenei said his company has removed 400 tons to 500 tons of metal boilers and pipes. Another 500 tons of salvageable metal remains inside, he said. He said his company has a contract to buy salvageable material from the building's owner for $37 a ton. He gets $115 a ton when he resells the material, he said.
The 13.6-acre complex was sealed in 1992 because of structural problems.
It is owned by Smithfield Foods Inc., which plans to donate it to the Essex Community College Foundation after environmental studies are completed.
The foundation is trying to decide whether to use the site for the elderly, townhouses or manufacturing. Whatever the purpose, the buildings will have to be demolished, said Andy McDonald, director of Essex's corporation and foundation relations.
The stop-work order could hold up demolition.
Mr. Hasenei said he wants to bid on the contract to demolish the building, but he won't be surprised if he doesn't get it.
"This last fire may cost me the demo job," he said.