A fire broke out last night in a waste dump at the Sparrows Point steel mill, sending thick clouds of acrid red and black smoke into residential communities around the mill, eyewitnesses told The Brew.
Photos sent to this website show a fire with high lapping flames that encompassed a large swath of property at the southeast part of the mill where raw and waste materials are stored.
The fire broke out around 8 p.m. and caused no injuries, according to eyewitnesses. Several Baltimore County fire companies responded to the blaze, according to Twitter traffic, including the Providence Volunteer Fire Company 29 in Towson.
The blaze was reportedly contained by around 9 p.m. Operations at the steel plant itself were not affected by the fire, sources told The Brew.
Last week, RG Steel announced it was restarting the “L” blast furnace following a financial crisis that had closed the plant shortly before Christmas and sent more than 600 workers on lay off.
Flames and “Kish”
One eyewitness reported that “flames several hundred feet high” shot out from an area known as the truck docks/Wharf Road where raw materials are stored.
There were heavy discharges of black smoke that appeared to be “kish,” the granular flakes of carbon-saturated metal that are a byproduct of steelmaking.
Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Maryland Department of the Environment have strict limits on kish discharges, which are considered hazardous to human health.
The fire was not publicly disclosed by the steel company. Bette Kovach, spokesperson for RG Steel, did not respond to requests for comment.
Elise Armacost, spokesperson for the county fire department, could not be reached this afternoon.
A source told The Brew that the fire started when molten iron was dumped into the waste pit. Molten iron is flammable if it comes in contact with water or makes contact with other volatile chemicals.
It was a longtime practice of former owner, Bethlehem Steel, to dump slag and batches of “bad” (chemically imbalanced) metal at remote sites of the 2,500-acre plant.
Currently, RG Steel is in the process of getting the correct metallurgical consistency for its iron and steel for commercial products.
Last night’s fire occurred immediately to the east of the L furnace and north of the Pennwood power plant canal.
The area affected borders Jones Creek and Old Road Bay, which are inlets of Baltimore Harbor that separate Sparrows Point from Edgemere, Lodge Forest, Fort Howard and other North Point communities.
A second eyewitness told The Brew that clouds of smoke from the fire “blanketed” Fort Howard and then moved east across the Chesapeake Bay toward Hart-Miller Island State Park.
The Brew will continue to report on this story when more is learned. Those who know more about the fire can contact this website through [email protected]