Charity has hope in wake of blaze

The Baltimore Sun

Unlike most Monday mornings, Casey Baynes spent yesterday looking for new desks, computer software and other office supplies so she could keep the charity she founded for critically ill children going.

The building in Violetville that was home to her nonprofit foundation was destroyed in a six-alarm fire that broke out Sunday evening.

"Now it's just a pile of rubble," said Baynes, a former stay-at-home mother who founded the charity in 2000 to offer programs for seriously ill children and their families.

Yesterday, Baltimore County firefighters continued to pour water on the still-smoldering remains of the cinderblock building in an office park in the 1400 block of Rome Road, as investigators searched for clues to the cause of the blaze. The crews might have to work through another night and into today to douse hotspots, fire officials said.

The blaze also destroyed the offices of Wollenweber's Trucking and Warehousing, a family-owned business that donated office space to the Casey Cares Foundation.

Despite the devastating blow to her operation, Baynes tried to keep the tragedy in perspective.

"It's not cancer," the Howard County resident said. "It's not sickle cell. It's a fire."

With an annual budget of $300,000 and a staff of six - most of them volunteers - the foundation delivers gifts to sick children on their birthdays and arranges day trips and weekend getaways for them with their families, Baynes said.

The charity lost nearly everything: patient records, a contributor database and donated items such as sports memorabilia for prizes at fundraisers, like the golf tournament that went off "without a hitch" yesterday, Baynes said.

While working to replace equipment and supplies, Baynes said she did not know when or where the foundation would relocate.

"People have been so generous," she said, adding that the charity had started receiving offers of help, including from families who were beneficiaries of the foundation's programs.

"They've said, 'How can we now help you in your time of need?'" said Casey, who spent much of the day at the fire scene.

Officials from the Maryland Department of the Environment were called in to check milky-white-colored water flowing from the site of the fire, said Robert Ballinger, a spokesman for the state agency. They determined that the discoloration was likely caused by a printing chemical stored in the warehouse that mixed with water and did not pose a risk, he said.

MDE officials were more concerned about chlorine from the large amount of water used to douse the fire ending up in nearby streams and creeks, Ballinger said. The department will monitor the tributaries, he said.

Fire officials said the side streets in the industrial area had only 6- to 8-inch water mains, insufficient for fighting a fire of this size. Hoses had to be stretched many blocks to bigger roads where firefighters could tap mains 12 to 16 inches wide.

Some area residents were expected to experience a drop in water pressure because of the amount of water used, according to fire officials.

About 175 firefighters from Howard and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City responded to the fire, reported just before 8 p.m. Sunday. The one-story, 130,000-square-foot building burned through the night, fire officials said.

Soot and ash covered cars up to a mile away.

No one was in the building when the blaze broke out, fire officials said, but one firefighter was treated for a knee injury and another for smoke inhalation. Both firefighters were released from St. Agnes Hospital, officials said.

As of late yesterday, investigators still were working to determine the origin and cause of the fire, said Elise Armacost, a spokeswoman for the county Fire Department.

Sun reporter Nicole Fuller contributed to this article.

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