THERE WERE FIRES EVERYWHERE, SATURDAY, APRIL 20, 1963. CHAPTER 8
THERE WERE FIRES EVERYWHERE, SATURDAY, APRIL 20, 1963, by Joseph B. Ross Jr. (Copyright © 2022 by Joseph B. Ross Jr.)
Chapter 8 - Dorr's Corner - Ground Zero
The huge Gambrills fire had now jumped the Route 3 highway and was burning fiercely on the eastside of the corridor. As Charlie Wilson and crew started to reel in the Brush 64’s hose line used to protect a house on the corner of the northbound lane of Route 3 and General’s Highway he received a radio transmission report from the Herald Harbor station.
The station, now staffed by a Grasonville VFD engine and crew, reported that based on phone calls received, the head of the fire was moving east and threatening a number of homes in the community of Cedarcroft approximately a-half-mile away.
As Wilson navigated through the heavy smoke covering Cedarcroft Drive he could now see home owners on their roofs with garden hoses trying to protect their houses from the wall of flames heading straight towards them.
Flames were reported 50 feet high above the trees. Wilson parked the brush truck near the large turn in the road and the crew worked to save a house that was closest to the woods.
He called for more help and was soon relieved as he started making out through the blinding choking smoke, the red and white blinking beacon rays mounted on the cabs and windshields of the engines trying to make their way through the narrow and now crowded Cedarcroft roadway.
At ground zero in the center of the Gambrills fire was the intersection of General’s Highway and the northbound lane of Route 3. It was also known as “Dorrs Corner.”
William Dorr had set up a business there in 1947. The business consisted of a restaurant, built into a large two-and-a-half story house (Today’s Gina’s Cantina); a garage and gas station and one story motel buildings.
Dorr was so appreciative of what the firefighters were doing that he provided any hungry firefighter a sandwich, drinks and free gasoline for the pumpers. Dorr would pump and donate over 300 gallons of gasoline. He would later say it was the worst fire he ever saw in his life.
Prior to the state police shutting down Route 3, thousands of cars were lined up along the roads filled with spectators and civilian volunteers. Many of these vehicles blocked the roadways obstructing the fire apparatus and the needed access to the fire areas.
However many spectators helped the firefighters by pulling hose snaked around the trees through the woods. It was not uncommon to see a half-dozen civilians pulling a hose line for one firefighter. Spectators would later say that the runaway blaze looked like “the world on fire.”
Eight miles to the north a raging brush fire was burning out of control off of Marley Neck Road. The abundant grasses, scrubs and trees were seasonably dry and as the day became hotter and dryer the fire burned faster.
Since most of the area fire companies were out fighting the fires in west and central parts of the county, many Prince Georges County fire companies responded to the Marley Neck area.
(The abundant grasses, scrubs and trees were seasonably dry and as the day became hotter and dryer the fire burned faster. Photo - Credit to the photographer)
Two Rivera Beach VFD, Company 13, firefighters battling the fire became trapped. They realized they could not outrun the swift moving flames.
They were able to douse theirselves with water and hugged the ground while the fire burned over top of them. With the exception some minor second degree burns on their ears, they were uninjured and carried on the fire fight.
Brooklyn VFD, Company 31’s Engine 312, after responding to Dicus Mill Road to assist with the Gambrills Fire, was dispatched to the Marley Neck Road Fire.
While working with many companies at Marley Neck Road, a flying brand landed on the engine’s canvas hose cover setting it on fire.
Harry Zlotowski would later say, “One alert crewman saw this and quickly extinguished the fire.“ The fire would consume 38 acres before it was placed under control.
Fort Meade sent out 300 soldiers to assist county firefighters. One hundred soldiers along with a bull dozer from the 19th Engineering Battalion worked diligently to control a large fire in the Odenton area along Jackson Grove Road.
Fort Meade also provided buses to transport families driven from the fire or evacuated from their communities to Red Cross shelters set up at Fort Meade and at the Glen Burnie fire station.