A mountain of 2 million tires, considered a major fire and environmental hazard to the region, may soon literally melt away.

A Virginia-based recycling firm bought Roplex Inc. in Hughesville, Md., for $440,000 at a recent sheriff's auction and plans to shred and crumble the rubber before turning it into heavy industrial oil using a high-heat process called pyrolysis.

The sprawling 17-acre tire facility was shut down in June by Maryland Fire Marshal Rocco Gabriele, who said the mountain of rubber posed too big a fire danger for Charles County.

Gabriele said he was trying to make sure a fire like the one that raged out of control near Winchester, Va., for nine months and cost federal authorities $1.3 million to contain would not happen in Maryland.

With its acquisition of the Roplex tire facility, Energy Systems Corp. will be taking a big step to eliminate a major environmental or solid waste problem on the East Coast, according to Raymond T. Tilghman, executive director of the county's economic development commission.

William Brown, executive vice president of Energy Systems, said his company will be able to convert 70 to 100 tons of tires a day once the operation is in full swing, perhaps as early as January.

The company owns another rubber recycling facility in Georgia and a test center in Oklahoma. Its principal local financier is Steve Horvath, owner of Tysons Toyota and four other area car dealerships, Brown said