CAMBRIDGE, MD., OCT. 5 -- Four days after a fire consumed a refrigerated warehouse here, the scene looked like nothing so much as the remains of the Devil's own barbeque. Flames fed by 750 tons of U.S. government-owned butter that was stored there and melted continued to breed today amid the steel and concrete rubble. Just when firefighters thought they had one hot spot under control, a backhoe clearing debris would uncover another pocket of rancid oil that soon ignited. Of course, grease from the millions of pounds of pork ribs, Butterball turkeys, hot dogs, crab cakes, eel and mackerel also kept in the warehouse didn't help matters. Two rooms in particular were like giant frying pans, where spraying water on the flames only made them flare up more, firefighters said. But it was the butter that most vexed the members of the Cambridge Fire and Rescue Service. Combined with charred wood and water, it acquired the consistency of crude oil or mud and got on everything from ax handles to mustaches. In some places, the glop was two inches thick on the ground, and more than a few workers lost their footing and fell on slick surfaces. "You take leather gloves, soak them in water and butter and try holding on to a rubber hose," one firefighter said. "It's been a frustrating experience." Behind the warehouse, melted butter had gathered in an amber pool six inches deep and covered a 100-foot-long area. Congealed globs of fat floated on the surface and a sickly sweet aroma lingered with the smoke. Officials from the Maryland Department of the Environment had placed straw and dirt around the puddle to keep it from seeping into a nearby creek. The State Fire Marshal's Office has estimated the damage from the fire at $8 million to $10 million, making it one of the costliest fires in Maryland history, said spokesman Bob Thomas. The cause of the fire remained under investigation. The 1.5 million pounds of butter that melted in the fire were a portion of nearly 5 million pounds stored in Cambridge and part of the 381 million pounds of butter the federal government owns nationwide, said Ray Waggoner, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The butter, worth about $1.8 million, was not insured, he said. Purchased along with cheese and non-fat dried milk as part of a price support program for dairy farmers, most of the butter stored here in 68-pound blocks had been sold to the Soviet Union and was scheduled to be shipped by Christmas, said Steven R. Closson, deputy director of the USDA's Dairy Division. Closson and a team of inspectors were in Cambridge today and found that about 4 million pounds of butter was apparently still frozen and unharmed. It will be taken by truck to a warehouse in New Jersey, where it will be tested further, but will not be sent to Moscow regardless of whether it is still fit for human consumption, Closson said. The butter will most likely end up on cafeteria tables at federal prisons and other public institutions, or perhaps made into butter oil for popcorn, he said. Although the government was resigned to burying the ruined butter in the Dorchester County landfill, Closson said he was amazed to discover that there was a market for it. Representatives of a Danish salvage company who heard about the spoilage on Belgian television were scheduled to arrive in Cambridge on Friday to see if they could recover the melted butter from the ground and rubble, he said. A Missouri salvage company's owner has also expressed interest, although no one here seemed to know his plans. When they weren't busy wrestling with flames or too exhausted to talk, firefighters on the scene could find some humor in their situation. Asked how he planned to rid himself of the grease coating his skin, one firefighter pretended to mop his glistening face and quipped, "Well, bread might work, or I just might put myself in the toaster."