Vacant Kingsville Factory's 'Historic' Protection Stifling Firefighting, Demolition

Firefighters continued to fight the blaze that is being investigated as arson.

UPDATE (Sept. 11, 3:36 p.m.)—A on Monday afternoon—but firefighters continued to battle rekindled flames that night and into Tuesday morning and afternoon, Baltimore County fire officials announced.

According to fire department spokesman Lt. Paul Massarelli, the former Belko factory, near the corner of  and Woodberry Place in the Franklinville neighborhood, has not yet been dismantled or demolished because of its historic designation.

At about 3:35 p.m. on Sept. 10, heavy smoke began billowing from the structure. Within an hour, around 10 engines from Baltimore and Harford County responded. There was nothing of value and no chemicals inside the structure. Firefighters battled the blaze from the outside only and no injuries were reported, according to Battalion Chief Paul Lurz and other officials.

The fire may have begun in an elevator shaft of the structure and arson is suspected, Lurz said on the scene. 

More than 30 pieces of fire equipment and about 200 firefighters ultimately assisted in knocking the fire around 9 p.m. Monday, according to Massarelli.

But firefighters returned to the scene Monday night and Tuesday morning and afternoon to battle rekindled flames, Massarelli stated in an announcement.

He acknowledged that previous fires had struck the factory, and that firefighters were familiar with its structure.

The county has requested the property owner's assistance in demantling the building, although demolition is currently restricted because of the structure's historical designation, Massarelli stated.

"County officials are attempting to find a solution to this problem," he stated.

The Belko plant closed several years ago and formerly produced rubber materials. A large sign inside the factory's property stated that it is now managed and maintained by the Baltimore-based Carnegie Express construction company. A chain link fence surrounds it.

The original structure, however, traces its roots to a cotton mill that opened in 1884. The first cotton mill burned in 1881, according to historic "Village of Franklinville" signage.

Several residents told Patch that while the structure holds historic significance, it has also become a hang-out for teenage vandals, who they believe drink and use drugs on the property.

Meanwhile, the quaint neighborhood, with clusters of homes ranging from 100 to 200 years old, has grown increasingly frustrated.

Resident Dan Watson said he's begun to expect issues at the vacant plant. "That place catches fire every year. There's a lot of vandalism," Watson said.

"It's gone on for the past six to seven years—mostly teenagers go in there," added homeowner Tom Wayman.

Resident Kim Ellis said she has witnessed at least three recent fires occur inside the structure. When she saw smoke on Monday afternoon, she expected the worst.

"I was worried. I thought, 'Oh my gosh, was it somebody's house?' I thought that it could spread. There are a lot of trees," Ellis said.

Patt Henry, who owns a 200-year-old home directly adjacent to the factory, said Monday's incident was a repeat of another severe fire in 2008.

Afterward, Henry said she assisted in getting a petition signed in favor of the vacant factory's total demolition. The petition has gained the support of the Greater Kingsville Civic Association, she said.

"We don't care anymore about its historic significance. We need to protect our house. Back in 2008, our fence was burning," Henry said. "The owners said they'd take care of it, but they're absent."

Mark Lundin September 12, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Here are a few links to additional information on the status of the Belko property from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). Voluntary Cleanup Program: http://www.mde.state.md.us/assets/document/Belko%281%29.pdf Environmental Investigation Site Fact Sheet: http://www.mde.state.md.us/programs/Land/OilControl/RemediationSites/Documents/BA%20Co%20-%20Belko%20Fact%20Sheet%204.1.11%20pdf%209%20pages.pdf Other MDE documents can be found here: http://www.google.com/search?as_q=belko&as_sitesearch=mde.state.md.us


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