One man was killed and several persons received minor injuries yesterday in a nine-alarm fire that destroyed a tobacco packing and warehouse complex in Wayson's Corner in southern Anne Arundel County.
Because of low water pressure, water had to be pumped from the Patuxent River more than a mile away. About 130 firefighters battled the blaze for more than four hours before bringing it under control.
The blaze at the W.H. Winstead Co. Inc. complex was the most serious of scores of fires, fanned by dry winds gusting to more than 30 mph, that burned throughout the region yesterday, including one that scorched more than 1,200 acres of the Quantico Marine Base.
Lou Southard, spokesman for the Virginia Forestry Division, said the Quantico fires started on the base's artillery range, but he did not know if artillery practice had caused them.
In Wayson's Corner, the 400 by 500-foot corrugated metal building that housed the Winstead tobacco complex was little more than smoldering ruins among jagged walls last night as firefighters remained at the site to search for hot spots.
Lt. Robert Stevens of the Anne Arundel Fire Department said the body of a man was found when firefighters searched the rubble of the complex, located at state routes 4 and 408. The name of the man was being withheld until relatives could be notified.
Eight persons -- four firefighters and four civilians -- were treated at Anne Arundel County General Hospital and released, according to Lt. Lee Cornwell, also of the fire department.
The fire, which started about 1 p.m., was caused by flames from a cutting torch that was being used to remove rope that was entangled in the wheels of a cart, Stevens said. As the blaze roared out of control, it sent flames more than 150 feet into the air and for a time threatened houses nearby.
"That fire caused four other big fires in the surrounding woods and grass," said Harry Zlotowski, a fire department spokesman. "Everybody was hopping."
Stevens said the series of pumpers stationed between the river and the warehouse to provide water was the largest such operation his department had ever mounted. About 50 pieces of equipment were at the fire scene throughout the afternoon.
Anne Arundel firefighters were joined by companies from Prince George's and Calvert counties, the city of Annapolis and Fort Meade. City and county fire units from Baltimore went to Anne Arundel to respond to other fires.
There were no damage estimates available, but officials estimated they would be in the millions. The complex housed machinery to pack tobacco and an undetermined amount of tobacco that had been purchased from southern Maryland growers, officials said. There were also reports that bleachers valued at about $1 million were stored in the complex.
Throughout the area, fire officials grew increasingly concerned by the combination of strong winds and little rainfall.
Virginia's Southard said 60 fires on state and private lands yesterday burned at least 390 acres. On Friday, 107 fires covering about 1,800 acres were reported in the state.
Yesterday, two small fires in the Charlottesville area were caused by broken power lines knocked down by the winds.
In the District yesterday afternoon, a grass fire broke out on the inbound side of New York Avenue between South Dakota Avenue and the District line. Six engine companies worked for almost two hours to extinguish the blaze.
The National Weather Service was expecting no change today in the dry, windy conditions. Winds are expected to reach 10 to 20 mph, with higher gusts, and rainfall will probably be confined to a few short afternoon showers.
A meteorologist with the weather service said that despite several recent dreary, damp days, the last significant rainfall was two weeks ago, on March 23.
Two other area fires were reported yesterday. In Alexandria, a fire on the upper floor of an Alexandria apartment building caused more than $100,000 damage. And in Manassas, firefighters battled a two-alarm warehouse fire on Farm Creek Drive that broke out before dawn.