THERE WERE FIRES EVERYWHERE, SATURDAY, APRIL 20, 1963, by Joseph B. Ross Jr.  (Copyright © 2022 by Joseph B. Ross Jr.)

Chapter 6 - Up And Down The East Coast

At around one pm, as fire units were mopping up the fires along Race Road, Chief Clyde Willis decided it was time to head towards Dorrs Corner at Route 3 and Generals Highway since based on radio transmissions, the intersection seemed to be where all of the action was.

However, he would first report to the Glen Burnie Station to see what the status was countywide.

Harry Zlotowski would later state that that Chief Clyde Willis, Company 33, “was singularly responsible for bringing a semblance of order to that day of chaos in North County. Willis, in addition to his engineman’s job, worked part time driving both a laundry truck and a taxicab, which gave him a keen knowledge of the area’s geography. It served him well that day.”

Zlotowski, a six year veteran of the Baltimore City Fire Department, resigned in December so he could start a new job as a county engineman assigned to the Brooklyn Fire VFD , Company 31, where he was also an active volunteer.

Due to the untiring efforts of the Anne Arundel County (AACo.) Enginemen’s Association, a third shift was added to the fire station staffing rotation. Enginemen who for over 40 years worked 24 hours on and 24 hours off now worked 24 hours on with 48 hours off. 

In January, AACo. hired 23 new enginemen through the recruiting efforts of the volunteer stations. Most of the enginemen like Willis, Darr, Wilson, Hood, Chase, Zlotowski, Morgan, Smith, German and Buttrum were very active in the volunteer stations on their days off. They provided the needed knowledge, experience, and more important the leadership and supervision for the volunteer companies.


(Brooklyn VFD, Company 31's 1948 Mack, 750 GPM/500 GWT. Photo - Courtesy of Joseph McDonald)

According to Zlotowski on this Saturday, he was the officer-in-charge of Engine 312, a 1948 open-cab Mack pumper.  Bob Welck was working relief as the engineman and was the assigned driver and three firefighters would be riding on the engine’s rear step.

In the 1960s open air dumps burned consistently at Baltimore City’s Cherry Hill and Glen Burnie’s Smucks dump located at the end of Dover Road off of Ritchie Highway.

With the gusty winds, the Smucks dump fire spread to nearby wooded areas and fields. The dump fire was Zlotowski’s and Engine 312’s first fire call of what would be many calls on this day. 

One hundred and eighty miles north of Glen Burnie, New York City firefighters had their hands full. On the southern tip of Staten Island an out of control wildfire had destroyed over twenty homes.

As 45 fire engines operated on the fires, they drew down the water and pressure from the city water mains and home owners had to use buckets of water from ponds and swimming pools to control fires as they waited for additional engines to arrive.

The fires also destroyed the telephone cables supplying the island knocking out phone service to over 4,500 customers. Two women died from heart attacks and scores of firefighters were injured. On Long Island in Nassau and Suffolk counties, brush fires destroyed several homes.

Approximately 90 miles south of Staten Island outside of Vineland, New Jersey, a wildfire destroyed 15 homes and killed a civilian in Newtonville. In other parts of New Jersey, fire claimed the lives of three and three others were feared dead as 87 were injured. 

A Burlington City fire chief was killed when the fire engine he was responding on collided with a state forestry truck. By the end of the day, approximately 350 homes would be destroyed or damaged in New York and New Jersey.

In Athens, Maine, a wooden fire station was consumed by a fast moving fire in 15 minutes. All but one piece of fire apparatus was destroyed. In the Maine textile city of Biddeford, 13 fire companies fought building fires in a-half-square-mile area.

The Biddeford fires caused $1,000,000 in damages and resulted in 150 persons being homeless. The fire destroyed most of the Diamond National Corporation, a large lumber yard, a business block and eight tenement buildings.

In Georgia there were approximately 1,000 fires. Two men, after lighting a trash fire in their back yard, burned to death trying to extinguish it when the fire got out of hand. Seventy-thousand acres went up in smoke in a tri-county area near Fairfield, North Carolina, as a wildfire burned out of control.

Virginia was experiencing serious brush fires. Eighteen-thousand acres of timberland burned throughout the state and an additional 2,500 acres were consumed in King George County. However, fire departments in Alexandria, Arlington and Falls Church managed to send apparatus to Anne Arundel County.

Back in Maryland, all counties were reporting numerous brush fire activity. In Saint Mary’s County in southern Maryland, Leonardtown VFD fire engines heading north to assist Anne Arundel County had to be called back when a major brush fire broke out there.

Baltimore County couldn’t send very much help. They were busy with over 25 fires, one destroying a barn near Benson. There were also fires in the Cherry Hill and Church Road area near Reisterstown and along Back River Neck Road where flames threatened numerous homes.