THERE WERE FIRES EVERYWHERE, SATURDAY, APRIL 20, 1963. Aftermath and Acknowlegements
THERE WERE FIRES EVERYWHERE, SATURDAY, APRIL 20, 1963, by Joseph B. Ross Jr. (Copyright © 2022 by Joseph B. Ross Jr.)
Aftermath and Acknowledgements
After about forty-five minutes on Old Telegraph Road now surrounded by dozens of fire engines, and since at this point there was really nothing they could do that the engines couldn’t, Jeep 324 and crew decided to return to Linthicum.
Just before they arrived at the station around 5 p.m., now being staffed by out of county units, the jeep was dispatched to a brush fire along the Pennsylvania railroad tracks near the concrete bridge over River Road. Also known as Patapsco Station.
When German, Harvey and Jeep 324 arrived they could see where a brush fire was smoldering between the tracks and a small green painted wood-frame two-and-a-half story farmhouse, with a small barn and numerous outbuildings.
There were few visible flames but there was smoke throughout the sage and brush east of the tracks from River Road all the way to the Patapsco River about ¼ of a mile to the north.
As German pulled the jeep on to a dirt road behind the house parallel to the tracks, he found a tired, elder African-American with grey hair and a gray beard.
The somewhat angry old man was holding a broom that was half- burned away at the straw bristles. German said, “You could tell that the broom was brand new. The handle was freshly painted and it still had the price tag attached to it.”
German asked the man, “What are you doing here?” “The old guy fired back, “What am I doing here, where in the hell have you been? I called the fire station at 2 p.m. and you guys are the first to show up. The man had been battling the fire for three hours by himself and had controlled the fire.
German and Harvey drove around with the jeep extinguishing the hot spots and making sure the line around the fire was secure.
Before the tired fire crew left the scene, German said to the old man, “Sir where did you buy that broom?” The old man replied, “I bought it just the other day at Whitey’s Supermarket.”
German, who used to work part-time for Whiteys located at Hammonds Ferry Road and Nursery Road in North Linthicum, said, “Sir, you take that broom back to Whitey’s and you tell Oscar “KO” Ziegler (a retired Baltimore City firefighter - who worked the store for his brother Whitey) to give you a new broom and tell him to charge it to me – Tom German.”
Afterwards German drove the jeep with Harvey to his home on nearby Colonial Drive in North Linthicum where he changed from his soot covered dress blues into a spare set of grays.
They cleaned up, had a quick meal prepared by German’s wife, and headed out again to fight more fires. German would later say, “After responding back to Maryland City and later to Odenton for more fires, we didn’t get back to the Linthicum fire station until around 2 a.m. Sunday morning. We put over 100 miles on that jeep that day and changed the oil twice.”
In Anne Arundel County, there was never a definite account of the destruction that occurred on April 20, 1963. There was no official account of the generous mutual aid assistance that the county received other than the newspaper reports.
It is rumored that companies responded from Pennsylvania, but at this time it cannot be verified. There were probably out of county companies that arrived in Anne Arundel, responded to fires and returned to their home stations without anyone being the wiser.
It has been estimated that between 3,000 and 8,000 acres were consumed and 3 to 6 homes and structures were lost.
Harry Klasmeier, Anne Arundel County Fire Prevention Bureau Chief reported that two houses were reported totally destroyed by the fires. One house located on Route 3 near Route 178 in Dorrs Corner was owned by William S. Coleman.
Coleman also lost a garage and tool shed. Klasmeier estimated the loss of the house at $5 to $6,000. Nearby, a barn, shed and stable owned by Robert Burns were also destroyed by the raging brush fire. A second house located on Sunrise Beach Road was also destroyed.
Deputy Fire Prevention Chief Charles Steele reported that a four-year-old was burned to death when a wood shingle house in Deale burned to the ground. The house fire was unrelated to any brush fires.
Two Deale VFD, Company 42 volunteer firefighters, Jackie Manifold, 16 and Paul Petro, 18 were injured fighting the house fire.
The helicopter pilot would claim that his actions saved the scouts from the airport fire; however it was really the bold actions and wise decisions made by Troop 822 Scout Masters Robley, Sikorski and Jefferies that saved the scouts. Although many scouts lost their equipment, not one was injured.
Later in the day a small group of young boys were found setting fires in the woods surrounding the airport using flare guns. They were arrested by county police and turned over to Arson Investigator Robert W. Griffith, Fire Prevention Bureau, for questioning.
It was believed that they were responsible for many of the additional fires that burned out of control all day north of the airport.
The 1960s were very dry years. Nineteen sixty-five and sixty- eight would be busy brush firefighting seasons.
A central fire alarm office that opened in the fall of 1966, more housing and commercial developments reducing the acres and of brush and timber along with the bans on open burning in the early seventies would have a major impact on maintaining a handle on future large runaway brush fires.
In later years, 1974, 1977, 1985, 1986 and 1988, county firefighters would experience a high level of brush fire activity.
Some fires were large resulting in multiple alarms. The worst fire would occur, again, near Gambrills in 1974. The wind driven fire would consume 400 acres and threaten a number of homes.
Fire seasons would typically occur during the months of March, April and May. The fires would keep the county fire departments busy especially during the weekends.
But there was no fire or even a series of fires that could ever come close to the magnitude of the fires that ravaged Anne Arundel County on Saturday, April 20, 1963.
Many of you are aware that I have been conducting research for a work of that extremely busy day since April 2013.
Many of you have already provided me with a tremendous amount of information. But I am still looking for additional stories and for photos of any brush fires between 1960 and 1965 in the county.
I would like to thank many people (firefighters and citizens), living and deceased, who have assisted me with this project as follows, in no specific order:
AACo.FD Lieutenant, Retired, Melvin Thomas Sr.
AACo.FD Deputy Chief, Retired, Nelson Pyle
AACo.FD Battalion Chief, Retired, Jack Reckner
Ms. Cathy Ziehm
BCFD Pump Operator, Retired, Chuck Morris Jr.
AACo.FD Firefighter III (Engineman), Retired, Paul Sterling
Mr. Jim Vecheck
BCFD Deputy Chief, Retired/Deceased, Lester Helfrich
Mr. Carroll Riley
AACo.FD Division Chief, Retired, Joseph Angyelof
AACo.FD Firefighter III (Engineman/Inspector, Retired/Deceased,Tom German
PGCo.FD Sgt. Retired and Vol Chief, PGCo.FD, Company 18 Harve “Ed” Woods
AACo.FD Firefighter III (Engineman/Fire Investigator/Deceased, Clyde Willis
AACo.FD Firefighter III (Engineman), Retired/Deceased, Charlie Wilson
Odenton VFD, Asst. Fire Chief, Retired, Wilbert Lewis
AACo.FD Firefighter/Paramedic, Retired, Dan Jarzynski
AACo.FD Division Chief, Retired, Harry Zlotowski
AACo.FD Firefighter II, Retired, Bobby Herman
AACo.FD Lieutenant, Retired, Mike Wiley
AACo.FD Lieutenant, Retired, Bill Stinchcomb
Mr. Nelson Cross
Odenton VFD Fire Chief, Retired, Wiley Donaldson
Dr. Charles W. Ehart
PGCo.FD, Retired, William Rose
Odenton VFD Lieutenant, Retired, Tom Nicolas
Odenton VFD, Lieutenant, Retired, Chuck Olson
AACo.FD Engineman Retired/Deceased Virgil Buttrum
Mrs Carol (Buttrum) Peusch
AACo.FD Engineman Retired/Deceased Melvin Morrison
Mrs. Joyce Morrison, Deceased
AACo.FD Lieutenant Retired, Donald L. Merkle
Photos – Fire on Dorsey Road, south of the airport, near the community of Timber Ridge, courtesy of Jim Vecheck.
Thanks to Joseph MacDonald for newspaper clips and dozens of fire apparatus photos and apparatus information.
Odenton VFD Asst. Chief David Lewis
Fort G. Meade Fire Chief, Retired Robert W. Miller
AACo.FD Firefighter/Alarm Operator/Fire Investigator, Retired, Jerry E. Minarick Sr.
Mr. Chuck Jackson