A late-morning fire at a Barcelona Nut Co. warehouse in Southwest Baltimore was quickly extinguished Tuesday, but city emergency officials were concerned enough to warn residents near the 500 block of Fulton Ave. who had nut allergies.
"Although we were unclear as to the amount of peanuts burning, we felt that it was worth a warning out of an abundance of caution," said Connor Scott, spokesman for the city's Office of Emergency Management.
In the end, there was probably little risk, said Dr. Robert Wood, director of pediatric allergy and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. He said those allergic to peanuts would have to be in proximity to suffer a reaction.
"If you were just roasting peanuts you'd have to be within feet of the roasting, in the building," Wood said. "In a fire, where there were larger volumes being burned, I supposed you'd be at risk within 40-50 yards, but that would probably be the extreme."
The peanut dust would dissipate quickly in the air, he said, adding that no one has studied if burnt peanuts would pose more of a threat than roasted ones.
The fire did burn peanuts, which were in a roaster in the plant, confirmed Ed Roush, Barcelona's quality manager. He said workers also vented the smoke during the fire, which was largely extinguished by the facility's sprinkler system before fire crews arrived.
The firm's employees were more at risk from the fire; three suffered non-life-threatening injuries — likely smoke-related — trying to put it out, Roush said. He and fire officials didn't know what caused the fire, but Roush said he hopes to reopen the facility by Thursday or Friday.
The company, founded in 1924 by a Spanish immigrant, has been in the current location since 1986. It roasts and packages several kinds of nuts at the plant, which also packages other snack foods.
Longtime neighbors said they didn't see much smoke and weren't concerned about the peanuts, and didn't know anyone close by with an allergy. Nancy Will, who once worked in the building, said it's not often they even get a whiff of nuts, which is a far cry from years past when peanut oil would coat their cars.
"You'd turn the windshield wipers on and get a nice smear," said her husband, Robert Wills, who was sitting on the steps of his Fulton Street house across from Barcelona.