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Two packages ignite at Maryland government buildings

Two packages ignited and released a sulphur-like smell when they were opened Thursday at Maryland state government buildings 20 miles apart, burning the fingers of two employees. One of the parcels was addressed to Gov. Martin O'Malley.

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

The opening of the two 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.

Explosive material wasn't found in either package that ignited, Barnard said.

When the Hanover package was opened, it produced a "puff of smoke and a sulphur-type smell, like if you would strike a match." The employee dropped it and called 911.

The Annapolis package, addressed in typeface to the recently re-elected Democratic governor and bearing holiday stamps, was opened first at 12:30 p.m. at the Jeffrey Building, where mail for O'Malley's office is routinely checked. The building is just blocks from the governor's office, which is inside the State House.

O'Malley said the package contained a note that complained about alerts on overhead signs on state highways telling people to report suspicious activity if they see it.

To the ire of some, the state last year also began using the signs to post real-time information on travel times to major highways. Some commuters complained that drivers slowed to read them, backing up traffic.

The Hanover package had a return address, though officials wouldn't divulge it, and was delivered through the U.S. Postal Office, Barnard said.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., told WJZ-TV in Baltimore that a return address on one of the packages turned out to be a Washington parking lot.

One package was addressed to the state Transportation Department and was opened about 15 minutes later at the agency's building in Hanover, near Baltimore's airport. The employee who burned his fingers at the transportation agency building was taken to a hospital.

Cate Conroy, acting director of outreach and advocacy for the Veterans Affairs Department, where the governor's mailroom is housed, was working there when the first package was opened. She said employees calmly left while reports of smoke were investigated. They were allowed back into the building a few hours later.

Shipley said state police are preparing information such as photos of the two packages for the mailrooms of state agencies, so they can open today.

As for the other suspicious packages found Thursday, one was at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene headquarters in Baltimore, after its mailroom had been quarantined. David Paulson, a health department spokesman, said it matched the description of the other two. It was later found to be computer laptop batteries.

The fourth package was found at a Baltimore courthouse and was an ink cartridge.

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