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Dump-Fire Smoke Surrounds Johnston Neighbors, Noticed in Raleigh

Posted February 28, 2007

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— Johnson County opened an evacuation shelter for a second night Wednesday for residents who choose to stay out of homes in the area where a smoky fire at a yard-waste dump continued to make breathing uncomfortable and, perhaps, risky.

The smell of the smoke was noticed in Raleigh. City fire officials said there were no fires in the city to account for it. It was evident inside the newsroom at WRAL. At nearby North Carolina State University, campus police said smoke alarms were going off in some buildings and no other cause was evident.

Officials had decided at midnight Tuesday to use the reverse 911 phone notification system to tell approximately 6,000 residents in a three-mile radius of the dump on Loop Road about the shelter at Clayton High School. The decision came after air monitoring found unacceptable levels of carbon monoxide.

The precautionary shelter re-opened at 7 p.m. Wednesday, the county said. No one had arrived by 10 p.m. Three families stayed there overnight Tuesday, they said.

The warning targeted people with respiratory problems that could be made worse by the smoke, but officials continued to suggest that everyone living near the fire stay indoors whenever possible, keep windows and doors closed, and not use heating or cooling systems so they would not draw air into houses.

WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said a weather condition called a temperature inversion, along with no wind, meant it was likely the smoke would hang over the fire area until Thursday morning, when increasing winds were expected to help disperse the pollutants.

The Johnston County fire is a reminder of a spontaneous combustion fire that broke out at the city of Durham's yard-waste dump last September and burned for two weeks. That fire, which also poured smoke copiously, went on until firefighters brought in a chemical fire suppressant. That fire broke out Sept. 10 and lasted until Sept. 24.

Firefighters continue spraying water Wednesday as the smoke continued to pour from the ground where buries stumps and other tree debris caught fire Sunday. At times nearby homes disappear in a thick cloud.

"I have problems anyway breathing, and I've had a headache for the last two days I normally don't have," said Wilford Gay, who watches the fire from his back porch.

Firefighters knocked on his door late Tuesday and suggested he move out because carbon monoxide readings in his house were high. Gay opted to stay with his dog and other animals, however.

Johnston County Fire Marshal Harold Henrich said several crews will test levels. Anything above normal could result in mandatory evacuation orders.

“They should take it very seriously as far as the smoke, the carbon monoxide,” Henrich said.

State and federal environmental regulators have time-exposure standards for carbon monoxide. One standard involves the amount in outdoor air for an eight-hour period. The other, higher level is for a one-hour period. Neither government has official standards for indoor air.

The fire is at Stump Dump Inc. Officials said the company covered its yard waste with dirt, which is standard practice. However, the fire started under the dirt through spontaneous combustion.

The fire is expected to burn for several days, causing heavy smoke throughout the day and night. Loop Road has been shut down, except for residents and emergency traffic.

Johnston County emergency management officials said people with immediate concerns could contact them at 919-989-5050.

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  • zodad Mar 1, 2007

    Just watched the news 14 interview with the Archer Lodge fire chief. He claims that foam is a great alternative to put this fire out but doesn't know who would pay for it. Not cost effective!!!!Since when does money take precedence over human health??? I thought the taxpayers for Johnston county already pay for services!!!How bout the state paying for it??? What an awful thing to hear a fire official have to say...By the way how about the owner paying for the cleanup..They were already cited twice for violations as the news has reported..I am totally disgusted with this attitude of let it burn itself out!! What a shame that money takes precedence over human health and life!!

  • Joy4u2 Mar 1, 2007

    Why can they not get a bulldozer out there and spred it out and put the fire out simple as that or has anybody thought about it, believe it or not this thing could go on for months no one knows how deep these stumps are.

  • Handle With Care Mar 1, 2007

    I live on Poole Road in Knightdale and it was very noticable this morning.

  • howdy Mar 1, 2007

    I dont think anyone is thinking of the firemen that have been out there for several days and nights with no sleep and not going home for much more than a shower and a quick hello. My dh has had about 12 hours of sleep since its started and was back out there at 6am this morning and will probably be out there til sometime tonight..

  • BlarneyStone Mar 1, 2007

    I lived in downtown Raleigh and I thought there was a fire somewhere downtown until I saw it on WRAL last night- the smoke was terrible. Fortunately it's going to rain this evening.

  • gdupree Mar 1, 2007

    This is an unfortunate situation. The Boyette's were only doing as they were told by Johnston County. Quit blaming them. Yes the air is bad and this is a big inconvience but i hear no one thanking the firemen who have not slept or been home with their family since monday.

  • Newsjunkie Mar 1, 2007

    Are you kidding me? That any governmental agency lets this happen in this day and age is beyond me. Oh "I can't help it, it was spontaneous combustion." I believe the parties responsible - the county and state - better find a better way to get rid of tree debris and stumps to begin with. What do you think causes global warming? All that freakin' cabon monoxide (among other pollutants). I live in Northwest Raleigh and smelled it this morning (Thurs).

  • JustGottaSayIt Mar 1, 2007

    We live in Riverwood Athletic Club and our house smells of smoke. We are experiencing the headaches as well. I, like some of you, am concerned about what is in the air besides the carbon monoxide. The only information we are recieving is from the media. Their was also a brief mention of violations earlier this year by Stump Dump Inc. What were they for? When will the residents be fully informed?

  • happilychildfree Mar 1, 2007

    Let's see what tonight's rain does. Maybe it will snuff it out.

  • Say it to my face Mar 1, 2007

    I'm 7 miles away and don't smell any "odor" or smoke either...