Fire Damages Fort Meade Intelligence Building

A major fire at Fort Meade began about 3 p.m. and took three hours to contain. No National Security Agency buildings at the post were harmed.
A major fire at Fort Meade began about 3 p.m. and took three hours to contain. No National Security Agency buildings at the post were harmed. (Nbc4)
By Steve Vogel and Raymond McCaffrey
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 21, 2006

A Fort Meade building that houses Army counterintelligence activities was heavily damaged yesterday in a stubborn and spectacular six-alarm fire that burned for hours, generating thick clouds of smoke that streamed and billowed in a brisk wind.

The blaze broke out on the Army post in Anne Arundel County and 3:05 p.m. and continued to burn well after 10 p.m. The fire damaged upper portions of the sprawling three-story building, which is headquarters to the 902nd Military Intelligence Group and houses several contractors, officials said.

The cause of the blaze, which apparently began on the peaked roof of the red-brick building, was not immediately known and was under investigation.

"Everyone in the building was evacuated safely, and we had one firefighter who sustained a minor injury to his leg," said Jennifer Downing, a Meade spokeswoman.

Downing declined to discuss the building's contents, calling them "sensitive in nature."

Another official said most of the documents in the damaged section are locked in fire-resistant containers and backed up elsewhere. Nothing lost at the building would adversely affect national security, said Donald Shiles, director of the Technical Counterintelligence School at Fort Meade.

A worker outside the building spotted the fire when it was relatively small, but the blaze quickly spread, said Army Lt. Col. James Peterson, director of emergency services for the post.

As darkness fell, motorists on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway called U.S. Park Police to ask about the glow created in the sky by the flames. Park Police said no roads were reported closed, and rush-hour traffic was not affected.

At one point, flames appeared to leap from everywhere on the roof of a section near one end of the multi-wing building. Flaming portions of the roof were visible amid streams of water and clouds of black and gray smoke.

Peterson said the fire was largely contained to the building's attic, which is used as office space by the intelligence group. A portion of the roof collapsed, and parts of it were "a total loss," Peterson said.

The building remained intact. "The structure did not collapse, and there does not seem to be any danger of it," said Rich Lane, a spokesman for the post. Lane said that no estimates of damage were available but that he expected it would be significant structurally and monetarily.

The cause of the fire was being sought by the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, but officials said this was routine and did not mean criminal intent was suspected.

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