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Landowner's cigar stokes towering fire at pallet firm

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Blurred by the rising heat, firefighters from Hoytville and North Baltimore battle the blaze in the pallet yard.

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HOYTVILLE, Ohio - Fred Brumbaugh didn't hesitate to finger the source of the billowing fire at his pallet business yesterday morning: His lit cigar.

The 66-year-old owner of Brumbaugh Pallets on State Rt. 235 just south of this Wood County village said he was combing through some old pallets to get some wood to burn at his house when he dropped his cigar.

“I don't have my bottom teeth in. It slipped right out of my mouth,” Mr. Brumbaugh said while taking a break from moving stacks of pallets from the blaze with a forklift.

He estimated 20,000 to 30,000 wooden pallets were destroyed in the fire, which kept firefighters from five local departments busy throughout the day. No one was seriously hurt in the blaze that began about 10 a.m. Three firefighters were treated at the scene after becoming overcome by smoke. Eric Larson, director of the Wood County Emergency Management Agency, said the three were not hospitalized.

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'I don't have my bottom teeth in. It slipped right out of my mouth,' Fred Brumbaugh said.

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Mr. Brumbaugh said he normally doesn't smoke a cigar while working at the business he and his wife, Beth Ann, have operated for nearly 38 years. He said he waited “a good 15 minutes” after dropping his cigar “because I'm afraid of fire.”

About 45 minutes later, he saw smoke coming from the north end of the five-acre spread where pallets are stacked higher than the house in the center of the property. The Brumbaughs once lived there. “Nothing that burned was good. That was all junk,” Mr. Brumbaugh said.

While he repairs and re-sells pallets to industry, the pallets that burned were to be ground up for mulch. Pallets are low wooden platforms used to stack materials.

Across the road, Nancy Biller was nervously watching the smoke and flames, which at times shot above the treetops.

She was having her house cleaned because a propane heater malfunctioned a few weeks earlier, and she didn't want the fire blowing her way. “It just got painted, and they're doing the carpets and upholstery today,” she said.

She said she has lived across from the business since 1974 and, though it has expanded over the years, she doesn't mind it. “It doesn't bother me. It's their livelihood,” she said.

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