By Michele D. Manigault
The fire, which caused emergency workers to block off parts of Frederick Road, was still burning on Tuesday morning. Fire investigators were still working to determine the cause of the blaze.
There were no reported injuries to firefighters or plant personnel, who evacuated the building after being alerted to the fire.
The first emergency call came at 8:40 p.m., said fire officials, who reported that more than 30 pieces of fire equipment were used to fight the fire at Simkins Industries, a paper factory on River Road.
"By 9:58 p.m. we had four alarms," said Lt. Vernon Adamson, a Baltimore County Fire Department spokesman.
Simkins Industries employee Dedrick Eddington was outside on the docks taking a break with fellow employees when he noticed flames shooting up from a section of the building at 8:30 p.m.
"We made sure everyone was out of the building, then we got out," said Eddington, as he surveyed the half dozen fire engines blocking Frederick Road in front of Dimitri's International Grill. "That's when we heard the propane tanks blow."
Although fire crews used water from the Patapsco River, to fight the fire, most of their energy was taken up with shuttling water from the second closest source three miles away on Frederick Road.
As engines filled their tanks from fire hydrants on Frederick Road, they took off down Thistle Road, a narrow, dark road which ends near the Howard County line.
Simkins Industries is located at the end of that road.
"There are no fire hydrants at the scene," said Adamson. "The roads were very narrow, with sharp turns. Considering the difficulties the fighters had to overcome, they did a very good job."
Engine crews came from all parts of the western part of Baltimore County, parts of Howard County and even as far away as BWI airport.
"Everything from the southwest end is here," said volunteer firefighter Terry Burton Sr. from Baltimore Highlands, who was home in bed when the emergency call came. "We got here in a hurry."
"We saw the engines coming from Arbutus," said Anne Herold, a Catonsville resident who returned from a family outing to find emergency crews uncomfortably close to her home on Hilltop Road, which is another access point to Simkins Industries. "I don't think I've seen this much excitement since the Ellicott City fire."
Further along Hilltop Road which dead ends at River Road, orange flames could be seen through the trees as firefighters scrambled to keep four streams of water pouring onto the caved-in roof of the building.
Longtime employees stood by, watching the building burn.
"It's going to be a long night for me," said Keith Whitley, a company supervisor who has worked at the paper company since 1985. "I can't leave until this is over.
While nearby buildings seemed untouched by the fire, smoke, flames and crumbling brick walls of Simkins pointed to the seriousness of the fire.
"This one was pretty bad," said Christina Partin, who watched the fire from her front porch with daughter Hailey, 8.
At about 8:30 p.m., her husband Arley, a Simkins employee got a phone call notifying him of the fire.
"He left right away to shut off the boilers," said Partin, who lives on South Hilltop Road, less than 75 feet away from the fire. "We watched the whole thing from our front porch."
"I've seen fires before, but this seems to be the worst," said Whitley, who stood with his arms crossed surveying the damage.
"I hope we can rebuild," said James Roberts, a 20-year employee who works with Whitley. "But I don't know."
The fire, which was brought under control at 12:48 a.m. on Tuesday morning, caused an undetermined amount of damage.
Contact Michele D. Manigault at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcia Ames contributed to this story.