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City Manager Outlines Plan To Extinguish Durham Compost Fire

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DURHAM, N.C. — Durham's city manager outlined a plan to the City Council on Monday evening to deal with a fire that started at the city's

Yard Waste Compost Facility

on Sept. 10 and has been smoldering ever since.

Some residents have complained about the smell coming from the 100-square-yard fire and are concerned about their health.

"It is really scary when you walk out on your porch and see flames. You see smoke floating across your yard out here," said Gracie Council, who lives near the facility. "You can't breathe when you walk out the door."

City Manager Patrick Baker told council members that the city is bringing in bulldozers to dig a trench around the pile and haul it away. In addition, three 5,000-gallon water tankers will help extinguish the fire.

Baker said he expects the whole process to take about two weeks.

"I personally apologize to the individuals who live near that facility," he said.

City officials believe the cause of the fire was spontaneous combustion, which can occur in large piles of yard waste when organic materials begin to decay.

The city uses the yard waste brought to the city's waste disposal and recycling center to produce mulch that the public can purchase.

Baker said the facility would be giving away the mulch over the next three Saturdays ensure sure it gets all of the material off of the property.

Baker also answered questions Monday about why the facility does not have the proper permit. It lost its permit in 2004 and was working with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources to obtain a new one.

"Whether or not there is a causal link between not having a permit and the fire -- I'm not convinced there is one -- I can't say there absolutely isn't," Baker said.

In June, the state sent the city a letter telling it to fix problems at the compost facility or risk being closed. Baker said the city ignored the warning and asked for an extension that was denied three weeks later.

Baker said he was unaware of the permit problems, but that he takes full responsibility for them and that getting a permit is now his highest priority.

"Somebody needs to take some charge of it because something needs to be done about it," Baker said.


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