Diesel fuel was leaking into the Baltimore harbor Friday from a four-alarm warehouse fire that broke out Thursday night.
Authorities said they don’t know how much fuel has washed into the water, leaking through storm drains. The diesel is being contained behind floating booms and with absorbent materials at the mouth of the Jones Falls, near the harbor-cleaning device known as Mr. Trash Wheel, said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Ronald Hodges.
The fire, at an abandoned mattress warehouse in the Oldtown neighborhood, was brought under control by 9 a.m. Friday, city fire spokeswoman Blair Adams said. Crews from Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties fought the fire for more than 12 hours.
Hodges said it was not clear where the diesel was leaking from, but the Coast Guard suspected there was some heavy machinery inside the warehouse that might have been damaged.
The agency began monitoring and containing the spill about 3:45 a.m., and said it began some time before that.
“The boom surrounding the Mr. Trash Wheel at the mouth of the canal contained a significant amount of the pollution before responders arrived,” the Coast Guard said in a news release.
Diesel continued to wash down the Jones Falls as of Friday afternoon, officials said. Because authorities don’t know exactly what the leak is coming from, they don’t know how much fuel is flowing or how long the leak will last, Hodges said.
The Maryland Department of the Environment also is involved in the cleanup. Gov. Larry Hogan convened an emergency conference call with state officials to coordinate the spill response, his office said. Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said early Friday afternoon that the spill was contained.
Miller Environmental Group, a Curtis Bay company contracted by the state, was performing the cleanup under the supervision of state and federal officials.
Angela Haren, the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper at Blue Water Baltimore, said the group was glad to see a quick response to the spill.
“Diesel fuel has the potential to be devastating to fish, birds and other wildlife as well as posing a public health risk,” she said. “This is yet another reminder that our streets are connected to our streams; pollution on land can and will find its way into our waterways.”
The contamination comes a day before the fourth annual Baltimore Floatilla, a kayaking event that raises money for and awareness of Inner Harbor water quality. Hundreds of kayakers are expected to paddle through the harbor from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday.
State officials said they are in communication with the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, the event’s organizer, to ensure paddlers avoid the contaminated area.