Fire at former recycling site ruled arson


SANDTOWN — A Monday night fire at a site that once housed a pickle packaging plant and later a recycling facility was intentionally set, investigators said Tuesday.

The Delaware State Fire Marshal’s Office released few details about the blaze first reported by a passing motorist just prior to 5 p.m.

Fire companies from Maryland, Kent and Sussex counties responded to 3051 Willow Grove Rd., and the fire was deemed under control at 9 p.m., authorities said.

Smoke from burning piles of recycling debris outside on the dormant Mike Davidson Enterprises property could be seen for several miles as the incident unfolded, according to multiple Facebook posts.

Most claims ranged from Magnolia (12 miles away) to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal (47 miles) north of Middletown on Del. 1, with an unconfirmed sighting from Waldorf, Maryland (89 miles) to the west from across the Chesapeake Bay as well.

Working Willow Grove Liquors and Food Mart on Monday night about five miles to the east, Pat Patel noticed a commotion outside as emergency vehicles sped past in both directions for up to three hours.

“It was nonstop trucks flying back and forth,” he said. “There were lights, sirens everything.”

Based on the thick, black plume of smoke he saw, Mr. Patel immediately sensed the enormity of the blaze.

“I thought ‘This is a big one,’ “ he said. “I’d never seen anything like it before.”

Eventually, a customer informed the storekeeper of the fire.

“This is almost always a very quiet area,” Mr. Patel said. “It was crazy last night, however.”

The site, which was also used as the San-Del pickle and pepper packaging plant, sits about five miles from the Delaware-Maryland state line in western Kent County.

Flames were also reported inside a commercial structure, which investigators described as a “large fire load.”

Citing an ongoing investigation, the Fire Marshal’s Office would not release further details on the origin of the blaze.

Two responding firefighters were treated for undisclosed medical conditions at Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital in Dover.

Damages were still being assessed on Tuesday afternoon, investigators said.

On Monday night and Tuesday morning the DNREC Emergency Response and Prevention Section was onsite to monitor the situation, officials said.

Two Little Creek Volunteer Fire Company trucks were seen leaving the property just before noon Tuesday.

The Fire Marshal’s Office asked anyone with information to call the Investigations Division at 739-4447, Crime Stoppers at 1-800-TIP-3333, or through Crime Stoppers website or Mobile App.

Looking back

In a 2010 Delaware State News article, Mr. Davidson said the company the company took in 7,819 tons of construction and demolition materials the previous year.

The company opened as a wood recycling and bagging operation in May 2005.

According to the story, the company mulched and dyed wood and tree limbs received from customers, then sold the product. Steel and aluminum materials were recycled at scrap metal sites, and cardboard and plastic bottles were sorted and recycled.

“I’m no tree hugger,” Mr. Davidson said at the time, “but I don’t think that we should just be throwing all of this stuff out.”

In March 2014, the Delaware Department of Justice charged Mike Davidson Enterprises with being a chronic violator of the state’s environmental compliance orders and DNREC regulatory requirements.

The complaint sought $8.3 million in restitution to clean up more than 100,000 tons of materials on the site, DNREC said at the time.

According to DNREC, compliance alleged violations began in January 2010 – two months after the company received a resource recovery permit.

DNREC suspended the permit in May 2013, citing 22 alleged violations.

On Tuesday, Lincoln resident Karen Mayfield was headed to the area to visit her mother when she learned of the previous night’s fire.

She seemed incredulous that there was still material to burn there.

“It’s been shut down for years, so I don’t know why there’s anything left,” she said. “The state knew it was a problem and got what it wanted, but then didn’t follow up with cleaning it.

“It’s an eyesore and a hazard.”

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