No ill effects linger after 'spontaneous combustion' at landfill Friday evening

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There’s no clear cause behind the fire that blazed atop the Pine Hill Landfill Friday night, but the site’s been given the all-clear in the days since.

Corralled within two-and-a-half hours Aug. 3, there are no air quality concerns to report following the flames at the site off Hwy. 31.

“At this point, things are back to normal,” says Republic Services General Manager James Murphy. That said, “There’s not a lot of information that we know on the cause of it at this point.”

Often, he added, chemicals in the waste at a landfill can combine and combust. That doesn’t seem to be the case here, though: “There’s no indication of that.”

It sparked some time before 8 p.m. Aug. 3 – that’s the approximate time landfill officials were alerted to the flames after-hours. The fire stretched across an area about 100-feet long by 90-feet wide.

“It was basically the work-face we had waste in for that day,” Murphy noted. “We were going to go back in there the next day.

“We have a water truck that has a water cannon on it. Once we get water on it then we cover it with dirt and basically smother the fire with soil. We already had the soil we needed to fight the fire … on the working face to cover for the weekend.”

Closed for the night, there were no personnel in danger and no machines or other property was in the line of fire.

Gregg County Fire Marshal Mark Moore attributed the blaze to “spontaneous combustion,” not unheard of amid an ongoing drought.

“Obviously during the conditions that we’re under right now which is very dry, the relative humidity is very low,” he said, while the heat’s high. Likewise, “You never know what is being put in a Dumpster or put in the trash. There’s a lot of different variables.”

What stands out to the fire marshal is the efficiency with which Pine Hill Landfill’s personnel quashed the flames.

“The folks at the landfill did a phenomenal job of taking care of the problem,” Moore praised. “They have a contingency plan in effect where they can handle issues by this. They did everything by the numbers.”

Temperature tests that night revealed no lingering hot spots.

“We continued to temperature test it throughout the weekend and into today as well. There’s no residual from that,” Murphy said Monday afternoon. Likewise, air quality tests have come back OK – representatives of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality were on site during the fire and returned the next morning. “There’s not really a test you can run while the fire’s going. Afterwards we do normal testing at the landfill that will be able to determine if there are any issues concerning air quality,” but all signs point to green.

It looked bigger than it was, Murphy added. Either way, he’s pleased with the response of the landfill’s employees.

“They skillfully took care of it Friday night. Our guys are very skilled and trained on how to fight the fire and get it put out.”

– By JAMES DRAPER

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