Farmer blames state for tire fire

March 13, 1997


Staff Writer

CEARFOSS - One day after fire burned a 100-by-200 foot area behind his home, destroying the columns of tires he used as planters, Denzil Poling surveyed the damage.

"For five years, I've been building a firetrap," Poling said Wednesday.

What Poling in 1992 viewed as a grand experiment involving tire recycling and conservation, on Tuesday became a nightmare.

He said that he blames the State of Maryland for letting him use the tires for his inventive method of gardening.

Fire officials said Tuesday's tire fire started at about 12:45 p.m. while Poling was heating water in an outdoor fire pit. Gusting wind carried embers to stacked wood, igniting both the wood and nearby tires he used for gardening purposes.


An estimated 100 firefighters from 14 fire companies in Maryland and Pennsylvania battled the fire, which generated thick smoke that could be seen 25 miles away. The last firefighter left the scene at 1 a.m. Wednesday, more than 12 hours after the fire began.

"I'm a good salesman," Poling said. "And I sold the state a very bad idea."

Poling, who obtained permits from the Maryland Department of the Environment to have the tires on his property, said the state should have refused his request.

Quentin Banks, a spokesman with the Maryland Department of the Environment, said it's absurd to suggest the state is somehow responsible for the fire.

"I submit that boiling water on a fire next to a source of ignition is irresponsible," Banks said.

When the state department of the environment issues a permit, as it did in the Poling case, the permit holder is expected to meet certain conditions, Banks said.

"That permit in no way precludes the permit holder from acting responsibly," Banks said.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Charles Cronauer said his office got a copy of Poling's permit, which made no mention of open burning, so fire officials assumed there was no reason to conduct inspections.

Cronauer said Poling did not mention the outdoor fire used to boil water because he did not want to divulge details of his natural method of killing insects without the use of pesticides.

Cronauer said Poling had not violated the law. He said, however, had the fire marshal's office known there would be open burning on the site, the office would have instructed Poling about such things as how far away from the flame to keep wood.

Just hours before the fire swept across his property, Poling and his wife, Dolores, were preparing to plant 160 pounds of onions, 5,000 pepper plants and 5,000 tomato plants.

"My idea is doomed, doomed forever," Poling said. "This was to be the year that I was going to show people I knew what I was doing."

Instead, his $80,000 investment went up in flames.

The fire broke out on five acres behind the Poling's home at 17049 Castle Hill Road, just south of the Pennsylvania line.

Poling had used piled tires to form 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.

"A year ago after the big freeze, I was in my glory because my plants didn't die when everybody else's did," Poling said.

Poling said he expects to get a bill for the cleanup. When he does, he said, he will send it to the state.

"I'm not shirking my responsibility but I can't afford it," Poling said.

He admits he would have fought the state vehemently had officials tried to stop him from pursuing his goal.

"I'm admitting I made a mistake, but they never should have approved it," Poling said. "The state is going to have to handle this."

Staff Writer Brendan Kirby contributed to this story.

The Herald-Mail Articles