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Fuel spill fouls 4 miles of stream

June 24, 1998|By LISA GRAYBEAL

CLEAR SPRING - Fish and other aquatic life died Tuesday after fuel oil from a ruptured tank in a Blairs Valley Road home flowed into a stream.

"We've had a noticeable aquatic kill. Fuel does not go good with aquatic life," said Greg Socks, team coordinator of Washington County's Emergency Service Hazardous Incident Response Team.

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Among the fish that died in the spill were trout and crayfish, officials said.

A fuel tank in the basement of a two-story brick home at 13530 Blairs Valley Road ruptured at about 11 a.m. as an employee from Aaron Oil of Clear Spring was filling the tank, said Lt. Eric Reid of the Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Department.

Homeowner Dorothy Mellott, 82, who's lived in the house for 40 years, said she gets her tank filled every summer so she doesn't have to worry about having fuel when cold weather hits.

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Mellott was in the kitchen when the Aaron Oil driver pulled up to the house and began filling the tank.

"I heard a big, loud noise," she said.

When she opened the door to her basement and looked down, she said she saw fuel "spouting out" through a hole in the tank.

Reid said about a three-inch hole formed at the seam in the tank and between 275 to 300 gallons flowed into the basement and down the drain.

"It's a mess," he said.

The fuel oil employee also heard the noise and stopped pumping. Mellott said she immediately called her son and daughter who both live nearby and told them to come quickly.

When they arrived they called Mellott's insurance company, and were told to call the fire department right away.

By the time firefighters arrived, the fuel had flowed down the drain and had reached a nearby culvert where a mountain stream swept it away.

Firefighters placed special foam pads in the stream to absorb the fuel.

The Washington County Hazmat team, along with Clear Spring firefighters, got ahead of the fuel spill about four miles downstream, and set up a dam off Mercersburg Road.

Since fuel is lighter than water, it could be seen floating on top, and workers used several kinds of absorbent material the length of the winding stream to soak it up.

"It's just a matter of trying to recover as much as we can," Socks said.

Firefighters alerted nearby farmers about the contaminated stream so that they could keep their cattle from drinking from it, he said.

By 5 p.m., cleanup crews were working against time as a severe thunderstorm threatened to hit the area with hard rain that would make it nearly impossible to prevent the fuel from flowing farther downstream, Socks said.

When the rain hit, the crews suspended the cleanup efforts.

There is little risk the fuel will get into drinking water supplies, although a water testing crew was on the scene Tuesday and will return today to ensure water safety, Socks said.

Residents near downtown Clear Spring likely will be able to smell the fuel today, particularly if it's hot, as it's carried downstream, Socks said.

Mellott's home, and the area around it, reeked of fuel Tuesday.

The Maryland Department of the Environment Spill Response Team, Washington County Civil Defense, Maugansville Fire Department, AC&T fuel company and Taylor's Plumbing also helped with the cleanup, Reid said.

Cleanup crews plan to return to the home and stream early today to sop up the remaining fuel from along the edges of the stream and downstream, he said.

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