Fire at Star Democrat

Firefighters work to extinguish a blaze at The Star Democrat July 22.

EASTON — The Office of the State Fire Marshal determined the remnants of a lit cigarette caused the fire that shut down operations at APG Chesapeake’s Star Democrat printing plant at 29088 Airpark Drive in Easton on July 22 and caused more than half a million dollars in damages.

“The fire was caused by improper disposal of smoking materials by one of the employees,” said Deputy State Fire Marshal John Grothe in a phone interview Tuesday, July 28. “It started in the trailer at the loading dock.”

The fire alarm sounded about 10:05 p.m. July 22. Smoke was visible in the press room and mail room areas as employees evacuated. From the front parking lot, flames could be seen along the roof at the back of the plant.

The fire started in trailer at the back dock that was half filled with compacted waste paper to be recycled, spread across the loading dock to cardboard stacked along the wall and up to and across the roof, where it extended into the roll room, where rolls of newsprint are store.

“The great thing is everything operated as it was supposed to,” Grothe said.

When the flames spread into the building, the fire alarm sounded and two sprinklers closest to the fire activated. The side room where the massive rolls of newsprint are stored is the only part of the building new enough to have sprinklers. Had the fire spread to the rest of the building, it could have been a catastrophe, Grothe said.

Easton, St. Michaels and Cordova volunteer fire departments responded quickly, along with Easton Police, Talbot County Emergency Services and the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office. Queen Anne-Hillsboro Volunteer Fire Company was on standby.

It took 42 firefighters about an hour to control the blaze.

“No one was hurt. That’s what we like to see,” Grothe said.

The Dorchester Star was on the press when the fire broke out. The July 23 edition of The Star Democrat was set to print next. Instead printing was shifted to The Baltimore Sun plant, and the daily paper had to be driven back to the Eastern Shore for delivery.

According to Jim Normandin, Star Democrat publisher and APG Chesapeake regional vice president, the plant was up and running within 24 hours — a feat Grothe called impressive given the amount of water and debris that needed to be cleaned up.

Grothe said he wanted to urge people to be responsible with cigarettes and other smoking materials and always dispose of them safely.

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