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Silo fire controlled

June 13, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Firefighters helped a Keedysville-area farmer salvage about $50,000 worth of alfalfa silage Wednesday after the crop began smoldering and releasing suffocating gases.

Dale Lehman said he was inside one of the silos on his parents' family farm at 6951 University Road when he was nearly overcome by fumes. Later, he noticed smoke coming out of the chute.

Firefighters, who were called to the farm about 7:30 a.m., had to attack the problem carefully or risk damaging the crop that filled half the silo, Fairplay Fire Chief Leonard Heller said.

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They used a thermal imaging camera, which detects heat, to pinpoint the fire inside, he said.

They couldn't simply pour water into the silo. Not only would it have damaged the crop, but it would have been ineffective because water tends to form channels as it falls, firefighters said.

Heller's next plan was to remove the silage layer by layer into a nearby field, where it could be hosed down if necessary.

But noxious gases prevented anyone from safely going into the silo or climbing up an enclosed outside ladder.

Washington County Special Operations personnel measured the air quality and found levels of carbon monoxide high enough to cause someone to pass out. A gas called hydrogen sulfide also was present, Special Operations Chief John Bentley said.

Special Operations team members, who are trained to go into confined spaces, went in with the protection of special suits and oxygen masks.

About 20 firefighters from Fairplay, Boonsboro, Sharpsburg, Williamsport and Special Operations were at the farm for most of the day.

The Washington County Air Unit and Washington County Rehabilitation Unit also responded.

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