A pair of unrelated fires left an Elkton-area woman homeless and forced the evacuation of 10 W.L. Gore employees from a company plant in Cherry Hill over the weekend.
About 60 firefighters and emergency workers began battling a raging house fire in the 1900 block of Blue Ball Road about 8:20 a.m. on Saturday after neighbors in the area called 911.
Smoke billowing from the 50-foot-by-20-foot single-story home could be seen from about a mile away, according to Adam Wolle, a spokesman for Singerly Fire Co. of Elkton.
"When (first responders) arrived, the house was engulfed in flames," he said. "There was heavy fire in about 50 percent of the house and the porch. There were initial reports (from callers) of explosions, but we couldn't confirm that."
Wolle said the woman who lives at house was outside when firefighters arrived. As of Monday, fire officials had not released the name of the woman, who was being assisted at the scene by workers with a regional chapter of the American Red Cross.
Deputy State Fire Marshal Derek Chapman, who was called to investigate the blaze, could not be reached Monday for information.
Wolle said it took six fire companies from Cecil County and two from Chester County, Pa., about two-and-a-half hours to bring the fire under control. Firefighters used 32 pieces of equipment, including eight tankers, while battling the blaze, which closed a section of Blue Ball Road from Leeds Road to Hilltop Road for about three hours.
Later that evening, a laboratory fire in a W.L. Gore & Associates plant at 2401 Singerly Road forced nightshift employees outside for nearly two hours.
Fire officials said the small fire was mostly contained by a company fire response team, but could have raged out of control, if not for the building's sprinkler system.
"The sprinklers knocked (the fire) down and contained it to a lab/office area," Wolle said.
He estimated the fire caused about $150,000 in damages, while nearly $50 million in machinery, equipment and other property was spared thanks to the fire suppression system.
"I know $150,000 sounds like a lot, but if a building like that was taken out, it would have a dramatic impact on the company and the community," he said.
Company employees reportedly discovered the fire inside a laboratory/office area and called 911 at 10:10 p.m., fire officials said.
An in-house emergency response team called the Incipient Fire Brigade oversaw the evacuation of employees and later fought the blaze, Wolle said.
"The Incipient Fire Brigade is made up of Gore plant employees who, in addition to their regular jobs as accountants, engineers, (production) line workers and so on, are trained in firefighting," he said, adding that the company fire crew employs "state-of-the-art" firefighting equipment.
About 40 firefighters from three county fire companies responded to the call, Singerly Fire Chief Bill McCall said.
"The sprinklers were still on when we got there, and they had contained it pretty well," he said of the fire brigade. "There was just a small, smoldering fire in the lab area. We put a hose on the fire for about 10 or 15 minutes."
After extinguishing the small fire and turning off the sprinklers, firefighters also made sure flames had not spread into the walls and ceiling, according to Wolle.
He said industrial-sized fans were used to ventilate the building, while firefighters used meters to ensure no poisonous gases were in the air before allowing workers back inside the building.
Deputy State Fire Marshal Howard F. Ewing could not be reached for information Monday regarding the likely cause of the blaze.