THERE WERE FIRES EVERYWHERE, SATURDAY, APRIL 20, 1963. CHAPTER 10
THERE WERE FIRES EVERYWHERE, SATURDAY, APRIL 20, 1963, by Joseph B. Ross Jr. (Copyright © 2022 by Joseph B. Ross Jr.)
Chapter 10 - Indian Landing Road and Last Stand At Arden
As it looked like the worst was over for the homeowners and firefighters protecting the houses in Cedarcroft, four-wheel fire apparatus headed down to the power transmission line road that ran east to west between Generals Highway and Indian Landing Road.
Units worked this area similar to what they did earlier on the power line road in Gambrills and managed to keep the fire to the north.
Charlie Wilson quickly drove the brush truck over to Dorrs Corner for needed gasoline. Wilson would later say that the gas pump operation looked like the pits at a NASCAR speedway race.
The engines and brush units would rush in. The gasoline would be pumped into the tanks until they overfilled and gasoline would spill out on the ground. The units would swiftly pull away to fight more fires.
Now, Wilson, the Herald Harbor Brush 64 and crew, along with many other crews and apparatus tried to make a stand on Indian Landing Road as crown fires blasted through the tree tops.
Despite the firefighter’s bold efforts, the fire would quickly jump over the narrow winding road into the pine thickets and sage east of the roadway.
The fire now headed toward the water front communities that made up Arden on the Severn, located on the south bank of the Severn River.
Engines that were not needed to protect homes along Indian Landing Road were now being sent east to Sunrise Beach Road.
(Odenton VFD, Company 28's Engine 283. FWD Pumper, 750 GPM/500 GWT. Odenton's four wheel drive FWD's served the community well during that era. Photo - Credit to the photographer)
Another crew battling the swift moving fire on Indian Landing Road was Odenton VFD, Company 28’s Engine 283.
Wilbert Lewis would later say, “We pulled up to a house as the fire burned through a field and was fast approaching. As we pulled an attack line off of the engine, the rear porch of the house ignited and was burning.
We quickly knocked it down the fire and then wet down the remainder of the house using all of our water from the engine’s 500 gallon tank.”
Engine 283 and the crew’s efforts saved the house, but the fire continued to move by and consumed an out building before it jumped Indian Landing Road.
The out of control fire surged forward through the thick stands of drought stricken pine surrounding Section 5 of Arden on the Severn.
Deuce-and-a-half army trucks drove through Section 5 with soldiers leaning out of their cab windows with bull horns announcing that “All residents evacuate at once.”
Twenty-one year old Cathy Ziehm, a senior at the University of Maryland in College Park, was spending the weekend at her parent’s house on Walnut Lane (Today Chinaberry Lane), in Section 5.
Ziehm was babysitting her nine-month old nephew when she heard the evacuation announcements. Her mother, a nurse was out working, but fortunately her father was at home.
She immediately grabbed her nephew, a diaper, a bottle of milk and a metal box full of important papers and her father drove the three of them out of the community to a staging point on Old Herald Harbor Road with a full view of the fire.
Ziehm would later say, “As we left the house, my wedding dress for a June wedding and countless family pictures behind, I noticed the orange reflection of the fire on our beige living room carpet.
On Old Herald Harbor Road, we sat and watched the flames whip through, not knowing if anything was left.”
On Sunrise Beach, Evergreen and Claire roads, behind the houses in Arden on the Severn, the firefighters made their last stand. As firefighters protected the homes, the fire continued to burn east and jumped Evergreen Road.
Engine 283 would return to this location after getting a load of water from a fire hydrant at the Crownsville Hospital facility approximately four miles away.
Wilbert Lewis remembers Engine 283 and crew standing by a house under construction. The anxious homeowners were there praying that the firefighters would perform a miracle and save the structure that was soon to be their new home.
(Herald Harbor VFD, Company 6's Engine 61, 1937 White/Darley 500 GPM/400 GWT with Vol. LT and Engineman Bobby Darr riding shot gun. circa 1960s. Photo - Credit to the photographer)
Less than a quarter mile away another Herald Harbor VFD , Company 6, crew was desperately working to save Tom Brown’s B 60 Ranch surrounded by sage and pine trees on Sunrise Beach Road.
The crew had been operating on the 1937 White built fire engine, designated 61, since late morning. Bud Cook was driving and 18-year-old Paul Sterling was experiencing firefighting in a way he never dreamed.
Sterling would later say, “The old White had a booster line reel that had to be manually cranked. We responded to so many fires, hauled over 20 loads of water, my arm hurt for a week from constantly winding up the booster line hose.”
Due to the size of the fire, the crew had to use a 1½ inch attack line to suppress the fire threatening the ranch in which they were successful in doing. Brown was so grateful to the firefighters for saving his home he handed them a $100 check.
The homeowners, who prayed for the Odenton VFD crew to keep their house under construction from burning, cooked up a pot of hotdogs in their fireplace and fed the tired and hungry firefighters.
Fortunately by the late afternoon and early evening the winds had died down and firefighters could now enter the woods and extinguish the low burning fires.
There would be spot fires throughout the Arden on the Severn area, but they were quickly dealt with and the firefighting during the worst fire day in the history of the Maryland fire service slowly wound down.
Cathy Ziehm credits the efforts of the firefighters of the many fire companies who worked tirelessly along with army personnel evacuation warnings for saving the communities homes and belongings.
Later, when her brother arrived at his house located on Oak Circle that backs up to the woods, he spent the entire night outside with a garden hose dousing the sparks that threatened his home.
At Junior Tauber’s AMOCO station at the corner of Camp Meade Road and Hammonds Ferry Road (now Music Lane) in Linthicum, Jeep 324 was on a lift in the one story brick building.
Tauber, a member with the Linthicum VFD, was changing the oil. Fifteen minutes later with the oil changed, the dirt and soot covered, German, Harvey and Jeep 324 pulled on to the ramp in front of Linthicum VFD, Company 32’s station.
Fire Chief Edgar Ford, also a career police officer with the Anne Arundel County Police Department was in charge and doing all of the station’s dispatching from the little “watch room” located behind a glass paneled wall in the station’s dayroom on the first floor in between the two fire apparatus bay areas.
In the station’s watch room, Ford had accumulated a small paper stack of reported fires that had been phoned to the station; however, there was no apparatus available to send.
Ford sent German, Harvey and Jeep 324 back out to a reported brush fire near Winterson and West Nursery roads. The crew was able to control the fire in about ten minutes and was next dispatched to Race and Hanover roads to help with one of the spot fires that had reignited there.
After the Race Road fire, Jeep 324 and crew handled another brush fire along the Pennsylvania railroad tracks in Harmans and emptied the jeep’s 60 gallon tank extinguishing the fire.