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2 packages ignite in Maryland offices

Associated Press / January 7, 2011

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HANOVER, Md. — Two packages about the size of small books ignited and released a sulphur-like smell when they were opened yesterday at Maryland state government buildings 20 miles apart, slightly burning the fingers of two employees. One of the parcels was addressed to Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.

The fiery devices, one found in Hanover, another in Annapolis, caused the evacuation of mailrooms at government offices across Maryland. Two other suspicious packages were discovered, though one was found to be a toner cartridge; the other laptop batteries.

The opening of the dangerous packages caused the incendiary device inside to activate, State Fire Marshal William Barnard said.

“When both packages were opened there was a reaction that caused a flash of fire, a brief flash of fire, smoke, and a smell,’’ State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said. “This is not to be compared with a significant explosion that you think of when you say that word.’’

Explosive material was not found in either package that ignited, Barnard said. When one was opened, it produced a “puff of smoke and a sulphur-type smell, like if you would strike a match.’’ The employee dropped that package and called 911.

The Annapolis package, addressed in typeface to the recently reelected governor and adorned with holiday stamps, was opened around 12:30 p.m. at the Jeffrey Building, where mail for O’Malley’s office is checked. The building is blocks from the governor’s office, which is inside the State House.

That package contained a message from a disgruntled person, said a government official familiar with the investigation.

It had a zipper feature and when opened, a “flame popped out.’’ The official asked for anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak about the ongoing investigation.

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