By Michele D. Manigault
More than 100 firefighters from across the region battled the blaze, which injured neither firefighters nor plant personnel, who evacuated the building after being alerted to the fire.
"It's going to be a long night for me," said Keith Whitley, a supervisor who has worked at the paper company since 1985, as he watched the building burn. "I can't leave until this is over."
The first 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.
The factory sits on the Patapsco River, roughly a mile southeast of downtown Ellicott City, straddling the Howard-Baltimore county line.
"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 on the loading docks taking a break with fellow employees when he noticed flames shooting from the building at 8:30 p.m.
"We made sure everyone was out of the building, then we got out," Eddington said. "That's when we heard the propane tanks blow."
Although fire crews used water from the Patapsco River to fight the fire, they also shuttled water from a site three miles away on Frederick Road.
"There are no fire hydrants at the scene," Adamson said. "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 Baltimore/Washington International airport.
"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, another access point to the Simkins Industries.
"I don't think I've seen this much excitement since the Ellicott City fire," she said, referring to a 1999 blaze that destroyed part of the historic downtown.
Further along Hilltop Road, 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.
While nearby buildings seemed untouched by the fire, smoke, flames and crumbling brick walls pointed to its seriousness.
"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, received 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 from the factory. "We watched the whole thing from our front porch."
"I hope we can rebuild," said James Roberts, a 20-year employee of the factory. "But I don't know."
The fire, which was brought under control at 12:48 a.m. June 24, caused an undetermined amount of damage.
E-mail Michele D. Manigault at firstname.lastname@example.org.