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Tires burn in Cearfoss

smoke visible for 25 miles

March 11, 1997

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

CEARFOSS - A 100-by-200-foot section of tires being used as garden planters accidentally caught fire Tuesday, sending billows of thick black smoke toward Hagerstown.

The fire broke out about 12:45 p.m. on five acres behind the 17049 Castle Hill Road house of Denzil and Dolores Poling, just south of the Pennsylvania line.

No lives or property were threatened by the fire, which spread to about one-third of the thousands of tires the Polings used as containers for growing vegetables, herbs and flowers.

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A pungent smell accompanied the smoke across Hagerstown, but Maryland Department of Environment officials said it posed no health threat.

The fire did not generate enough heat to create much oily runoff, said Art Mayfield, hazardous materials response officer with the department.

The Washington County Hazardous Incident Response Team soaked up petroleum floating on the surface of nearby Toms Run.

The Polings stayed inside their house while up to 100 firefighters battled the stubborn blaze during the afternoon.

"I can't watch. I just feel sick about it," Denzil Poling said.

Ironically, Poling thought he was helping the environment by recycling scrap tires, which he used to create chest-high gardening planters, which were filled with dirt.

He invented his own system of stacking tires, with the lower tires acting as a water collecting system.

"It's a mistake. I made a mistake convincing everybody to let me do this," said Poling, who had to obtain permits to have the tires on his property.

The fire started as Poling was heating water over a fire in a fire pit, according to the Maryland Fire Marshal's Office.

Gusting winds blew hot embers from the fire onto wood to be used to feed the fire, igniting both that wood and some nearby tires, according to Deputy Fire Marshal K. Arthur McGhee.

Winds helped the blaze spread quickly.

"I had no idea it would burn this fast," Poling said.

Poling was in violation of his permit to keep the tires, said Mark Cox, chief of investigation and remediation for the Maryland Department of Environment solid waste program.

The tire stacks were too close together, allowing the fire to spread, Cox said.

Although no serious injuries were reported, Incident Commander Lt. Ian Swisher, of Maugansville Volunteer Fire Co., twisted his right ankle about five minutes after he arrived, but waited three hours before he had it examined by a paramedic.

Also limping was Robbie Mellott, assistant chief of Greencastle Volunteer Fire Department, who broke his leg on a fire call Jan. 1 and had the cast removed just three weeks ago.

Firefighters attacked the fire with water and foam.

Tanker trucks hauled the water from a hydrant on Md. 63 to the end of the Polings' driveway, where hoses took it back to the burning tires.

About 400 gallons of foam were taken to the fire scene by Washington County Airport's new fire department, Swisher said.

By late afternoon, bulldozers from Jeter Paving arrived to push the burning tires into one pile. Firefighters expected a long day, and some were still on the scene late Tuesday.

The Polings will likely have to pay the cost of fighting the fire, officials said. No cost estimate was available.

As the tires burned, Smoke could be seen from 25 miles away on Interstate 81.

People trying to get a glimpse of the fire clogged Md. 63 and other nearby roads.

Firefighters were on hand from Maugansville, Long Meadow, Clear Spring, Funkstown, Halfway, Leitersburg, Mercersburg, Pa., Greencastle, Pa., and Mont Alto, Pa.

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