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Dump Fire Near Impossible to Extinguish

Posted March 1, 2007
Updated March 2, 2007

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— State officials Thursday said they are considering sanctions against the company that operates the yard-waste dump where smoke from an underground fire has been fouling skies over parts of Johnson County all week.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources cited Stump Dump Inc. in December for covering too much area and for not properly covering waste. A re-inspection had been planned this week.

Instead, firefighters have been tied up at the dump since spontaneous combustion began the fire that has filled the sky with smoke, sometimes raised levels of carbon monoxide in the area and prompted a voluntary evacuation in a three-mile radius.

The fire may continue to burn for days or even weeks, local officials said. Because the burning wood is underground and covers a large area, reaching it with water is difficult.

Use of chemical fire-retardants is being considered, as well as trying to accelerate the burn to use up the fuel faster with less smoke. Emergency management officials said trying to pump water underground was having limited effect on the dump, which reaches depths of 70 feet and contains some large logs and stumps.

Officials said carbon monoxide levels were higher than normal but were within outdoor air-quality limits. They said people should use their best judgment when deciding whether to operate heating and cooling systems. They had been recommending that those systems be kept shut down in homes around the dump, which is off Loop Road.

"We are considering additional enforcement action," said Paul Crissman, chief of DENR's Solid Waste Section. That could mean fines or even being closed, he said.

The smell of the smoke even reached Raleigh Wednesday night, triggering alarms in some  North Carolina State University buildings, campus police said.

A temporary evacuation center at Clayton High School operated Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Johnston officials said they did not plan to operate the shelter Thursday because air quality was not dangerous, but they added that they would use the reverse E-911 system to notify residents if conditions worsened.

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. Three families stayed there overnight Tuesday, they said.

The Johnston County fire recalled 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 but did not force evacuations, went on until firefighters brought in a chemical fire suppressant. That fire broke out Sept. 10 and lasted until Sept. 24.

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.

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

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  • mrcrosby Mar 2, 2007

    prestgious neighborhood and dumpin the same area, that works, how??? senators live in dumps too. just because a senator lives next door means nothing. I grew up with senators and gongressmen, means nothing

  • mrcrosby Mar 2, 2007

    justcurious04, what is the asking price tonight. with all the smoke, about $1.50. we thought about moving in there. I know a cop and his wife that live on raymond dr., in facted dated her in college. thought that it was pretty low-rent and run down when we saw it. by the way, so was she. Anyway, I guess one person's trash is someone else's treasure

  • EnoughzEnough Mar 2, 2007

    There are a lot of people in this area, as I am, that are on well water and the water question is one that I have asked with no answers.

    I do have a land line phone....so no excuse as to why I would not have received a call...

  • usnn Mar 2, 2007

    Are folks in the area on wells? If it were me and I had a well, I'd be concerned about underground injection of foam, fire retardants, or even water.

    Also, the people who have been having problems with not receiving reverse 911 notifications have landlines still, right? Situations like this requiring the reverse 911 system are one reason why I keep the landline in addition to the cell.

  • giffman Mar 2, 2007

    I love how the owners of the Stump Dump recorded a message stating that they were temporarily closed due to an underground fire and that operations could resume as early as March 5th. Are these people for real? I hope the state has the courage to do the right thing and shut them down.

  • jmgray112 Mar 2, 2007

    nogodinme- spontaneous combustion is a natural occurring phenom that is not uncommon when natural products, such as grass, yard debris, etc. begin to break down. In short, easy terms, the rotting of the waste puts out heat and causes itself to combust. This is why when farmers cut hay, they must let it dry out for a few days before putting it into bales. If they did not, it would spontaneously combust.

  • ncwriter3 Mar 2, 2007

    And how, exactly, will we find out about what they're "trying" now and its' possible effects????

  • ncwriter3 Mar 2, 2007

    I'm shocked to hear that someone who lives ON Loop Road did not get a reverse 911 call. That is incomprehensible! I am finding it more than frustrating trying to get updates on this situation and am COUNTING on reverse 911 to notify me of any change in status which could in ANY way affect me and my family. When I called the Johnston County Public Information Office this morning they told me people were complaining about being called late at night by the reverse 911 system. I'm disgusted with anyone who doesn't appreciate this life-saving effort!!!!! Whoever you are...duuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhh

  • EnoughzEnough Mar 2, 2007

    Riverwood is a fairly prestigious neighborhood. I don't know many State Senators personally, but I don't believe that you would find one living in 'lower end houses' as Senator Fred Smith lives in this Riverwood neighborhood!

    Regarding the reverse 911 calls...I live ON Loop Road, less than a mile from this mess and I did NOT receive the call notifying of the voluntary evacuation.

  • happilychildfree Mar 2, 2007

    Did the rain do ANYTHING to slow it down? And what the heck is "spontaneous combustion" anyway? They want me to believe it just burst into flames with no accelerant or ignition source?

    I'm all for trying to speed the burn. Evacuate for 24 hours and let 'er rip. See if they can get it so we can see the flames from Raleigh. That'll be fun, right?