Fire causes $4 million in damage to Prince George's research building


A three-alarm fire caused $4 million in damage to one of the oldest buildings at Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Prince George's County yesterday morning.

No one was injured in the blaze, which sent flames shooting through the slate roof of the three-story brick structure, which is the north wing of the center's headquarters building. It was nearing the end of a renovation that began in December 1997.

Construction workers noticed smoke coming from the top of the building, which is west of U.S. 1, when they arrived for work just after 6 a.m. Prince George's County firefighters reached the scene before 6: 30 and triggered two more alarms, requesting assistance from Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties.

Mark Brady, spokesman for the Prince George's Fire Department, said more than 100 firefighters with 35 pieces of equipment battled the fire, which was extinguished by 8 a.m.

Brady would not speculate on the cause of the fire, which is under investigation by the Prince George's department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Officials at the research center, which is operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the building was constructed in 1935 and was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It was used for offices and research laboratories, but was not occupied because of the renovations.

"Above all, I am so thankful that no one was hurt and no research projects were lost in this sad incident," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said in a statement. "Let me assure [the center's staff] that we are going to do everything we can to restore this historic structure."

Andy Solomon, spokesman for the ATF, said the high cost estimate of the damage was because the building's expensive slate roof was destroyed. The fire was confined to the attic area, but the entire building sustained extensive water damage.

Pub Date: 1/16/99

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