KRAFT CORNER, MD., FEB. 12 -- Richard McCann, firefighter extraordinaire and head of Team Kodiak of Nixa, Mo., rolled in here today to take on his favorite enemy: a smoldering construction dump fire that has been burning out of control for more than a week.
The bearded, burly McCann, known as "The Bear," brought his quick-response truck containing a "forced-air foam system" that he says will coat the tons of burning logs, stumps and timbers with a white, sudsy chemical foam that robs the flames of oxygen.
Baltimore County firefighters, unable to contain the seven-acre, wind-fed underground fire since it erupted Feb. 2, put out a national appeal for help after the county and the owner of the dump had spent up to $10,000 a day on rented bulldozers and other equipment in an unsuccessful effort to snuff out the blaze.
Officials said the fire, whose heavy smoke has been noticeable from as far away as downtown Baltimore, 12 miles east of this crossroads community, may have been set. An investigation is continuing.
Residents near the dump in this semi-rural area have complained of heavy smoke and ash deposits on their homes and cars.
McCann, 39, stood atop the dump site rubble today scanning the acrid smoke and occasional spurts of flame and said, "This is a big one . . . It's fast-moving. It's getting a lot of air down there."
He said it will take at least 10 days to put out the flames, some of which may be 40 to 50 feet underground, licking away at the tangle of tree stumps and logs dumped there during the past 14 years.
McCann said he is staying at the dump "for the duration," sleeping in a camper at night. He said about 40 county firefighters are on the scene during the day, and a skeleton crew is there at night.
He said the foam job will cost the county about $50,000. But that's better than paying up to $10,000 a "We're a cheap date."
-- Richard McCann
day using just plain water, which could take a year, he said.
"We're a cheap date," he said.
Using special aerating nozzles, McCann and county firefighters started spraying the fire today with the foam, a mix of water, heated air and a liquid concentrate called Phos-Chek WD-881, made by Monsanto Co.
Thousands of gallons of the foam trickled into the burning mass of debris, filling cavities and sticking to all surfaces. By midday, McCann said, the amount of smoke appeared to have abated in the sprayed areas.
"Within 48 hours we hope to see a significant reduction in smoke," county fire Battalion Chief Ralph A. Nelson said.
Water for the foam operation is being pumped from a creek more than a mile away through hoses connected to a series of fire engines with relay pumps.
Monsanto spokesman Carl Moskowitz in St. Louis said that the foam, when diluted with water, is nontoxic and biodegradable. He said the foam, which has been successful against similar fires in the Kansas City area and elsewhere, fills and clogs underground spaces "so air can't get through" to flammable material and "starves it of oxygen."
The dump is on the Patapsco Valley Tree Farm, a Christmas tree farm owned by James Frances Jett. Fire officials said Jett rented bulldozers and other equipment during the first days of the fire but ran out of money. Since Monday, the county has assumed the costs for renting the equipment and paying the operators, officials said. They said the daily cost is down to about $4,000 now.
Jett could not be reached for comment.