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

Chapter 9 -  A Ring of Fire

By mid afternoon twelve major fires ringed the Glen Burnie - Friendship Airport area in addition to the still out of control Gambrills fire.

Fire units from as far away as Westminster, Sykesville, Reece, Taneytown and Manchester in Carroll County, New Market in Frederick County; Cordova, Sudlersville, Easton, Oxford, Grasonville and Cambridge from the Eastern Shore.

Prince Georges County sent so many units that when fires broke out in Beltsville and along Sheriffs Road, in the county, the county’s fire alarm office called the Washington D.C. Fire Department for help.

Washington couldn’t send anything; they had a number of fires burning including a 50 acre brush fire burning along Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park.

In all, 15 fire companies from Prince Georges and Montgomery counties were sent help to Anne Arundel. Calvert County couldn’t send any apparatus or equipment. They were experiencing two general alarm brush fires, one at Drum Point and the second near Lusby.

Harve Edward Woods would later state that around 8 p.m. Saturday night, Virginia fire engines from Cherrydale, Arlington County and Woodbridge, Prince William County, were filling in Prince Georges Glendale Station 18 which had sent everything to Anne Arundel County.

On Louise Terrace in the Glenwood section of Glen Burnie, twelve-year-old Carroll Riley heard the sirens of fire engines, trucks and police cars responding on Ritchie Highway, Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard and Crain Highway all major road arteries in the Glen Burnie area.

He would climb a tree in his back yard about every 15 minutes to check on the fires. From his tree he had a great view of the huge columns of smoke. He would later say, “In every direction there were columns of yellow-white smoke. I had never seen anything like it, and probably never will again.”

The command post at the Civil Air Patrol Headquarters in Linthicum was staffed to the max. In addition to a couple of Glen Burnie VFD fire officers there were many Prince Georges county fire chiefs.

The Glen Burnie fire officers maintained communications with the Glen Burnie fire station and the Long Hill Forestry tower in Pasadena. As the C&P Airway’s helicopter reported new fires, the information would be radioed to the command post.

From the command post, the Glen Burnie officers would relay the information to the effected fire station via telephone, which in turn would dispatch the apparatus.

If direction would be needed for Prince Georges County units, the chiefs would contact their alarm center and have the information communicated by radio transmission to the units in the field. It was all very time consuming and complicated.

But it worked. Fires that only needed a couple of engines to put out received a half-dozen. With the exception of a fire that would later break out near Dorsey Road in Hanover, no other fires would get out of control.

The Anne Arundel County Radio Club members were a big help by providing communications between out of county units, state and county police and state forestry department units with the various fire command post (CPs) that were set up for the major fires that were occurring.

Club members with mobile and hand held radios at the fire scene would communicate with other club members at the CPs.  At the Dorr’s Corner CP a club radio truck was used as the base station and assisted in allowing all responding organizations to talk to one another. 

Since late morning Pasadena fire companies had been battling a fire that broke out at the old Schmidt farm, between Jacobsville and Lake Shore.  

As dense columns of white smoked fanned out, a solid sheet of flame would chew up everything in its path along the south side of Mountain Road.

Companies from Easton and Grasonville from the Eastern Shore, and Union Bridge, from Carroll County, along with many Prince Georges county fire companies battled the fire with engines from the Lake Shore VFD and eventually put the 40 acre fire under control. 

Bob Herrmann remembers this fire well.  As a sixteen-year-old and a new member with the Lake Shore VFD, Company 20, this was one of his first calls.

Hermann would later say that the fire was first reported in the rear of Wilson’s service station (Today’s Citgo station) on the south side of Mountain Road east of today’s Route 100 intersection.

He said that the crew consisted of himself, two other volunteers, Engineman Tom Holmes driving and Chief William Harrington riding shot-gun.  

The new open-cab Mack Engine 203 and crew proceeded down a dirt road behind the service station to the fire which was burning rigorously in a pile of dry brush in a wooded area. Chief Harrington not liking what he saw, ordered Holmes to stop and turn the engine around – they would back in.

(Lake Shore VFD, Company 20's Engine 203 circa 1980. 1962 Mack pumper. Photo - Credit to the photographer)

Herrmann and the crew of firefighter’s pulled a section of booster line hose off of the engine and proceeded to work on the fire.  As they worked to extinguish the flames, the fire started to pick up speed and spread due to the dryness of the brush and the forceful wind. 

“Within seconds the fire took off and we were surrounded by a walls of flame on three sides,” stated Hermann. Chief Harrington wisely ordered everyone out and they wrapped the hose line around the engine and pulled out to a safe location.

For the rest of the day the engine and crew stayed put protecting the houses in the area of Wilsons. Herrmann said that the fire would burn east jumping Woods Road, Lake Shore Drive and was finally stopped in an area near North Shore Road.

(L-R, Riveria Beach VFD, Company 13's Engine 131, 1956 Maxim, Engine 203, 1962 Mack and Engine/Tanker 201, 1946 Mack. Pictured here on Woods Road during a brush fire in March 1985. All three would have most likely responded to the Saturday 4-20-63 Lake Shore fires.  Photo - Johnny Floyd II)