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Pictured is a air curtain incinerator used for disposal of material at the Hartselle landfill where city workers have been trying to extinguish a brush fire since Feb. 13. City officials say an air curtain incinerator has been purchased for the Hartselle landfill.

Officials monitor brush fire at city landfill

Special to the Enquirer

A brush fire at the city landfill is being closely monitored by city employees and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, according to a press release from the City of Hartselle.

The fire was discovered around 8 p.m. Feb. 13 and consists of limbs, pieces of trees and small brush that was picked up from homes in the City of Hartselle or brought into the landfill by citizens.

“The material in the brush pile is all natural,” the release read, clarifying the landfill itself is not on fire – only the brush.

The fire is partially blamed on “normal chemical and physical breakdown” of material that is normally ground into mulch throughout the year.

“As soon as the fire was detected, Hartselle Public Works and Hartselle Fire & Rescue began the task of limiting the exposure of the fire and began the process of extinguishing the combustion,” the statement continued.

“With the fire being internal, spraying water on the burning material would not help the situation.”

City administration said ADEM was notified of the fire, and a representative from ADEM has been on site.

Following advice from ADEM, city employees began pulling small amounts of the smoldering and burning brush and debris from the burning pile with a track hoe, a piece of heavy equipment which runs on tracks and has a large scoop on the front.

Water was then applied to extinguish the hot material.

Also, a retaining pond has been dug around the burning pile so any water is retained and does not cause a runoff issue, as recommended by ADEM. A silt fence, also recommended by ADEM, has been placed around the area.

Work continued this past week and this weekend to contain the burn, with the addition of a dozer to move the material and allow the track hoe to move more of the material from the brush pile.

A Hartselle Fire & Rescue engine was on site to supply water for the efforts.

According to officials, one of the issues that continues is the extreme heat of the brush. As the material is pulled out, the scoop on the track hoe must be cooled down with water often to keep it from overheating. The scoop is digging directly into the burning material.

Weather conditions this past week made the process slower as well, officials said. With the damp, rainy and humid air around Hartselle, the smoke hovered closer to the ground. On the days the sun was shining, the smoke went straight up into the air and was dispersed instead of staying lower to the ground.

The smoke is causing issues for some citizens in Hartselle who have let their frustration regarding the fire be known on social media.

“Whatever is “naturally” burning is killing my asthma,” Hartselle resident April Free said in a post after the City of Hartselle released its statement. “It’s making it hard  to breathe … (my) doctor had to give me another inhaler. (I have been) so congested from it and sick and miserable since it started.”

Donna Davis said she lives close to the landfill and her asthma has also been negatively impacted by the fire.

“Those of us who have asthma and live close by – our quality of life has been affected,” Davis said.  “My asthma used to be well under control, but not now.”

Officials said they expect the fire will be much more manageable by the end of this week, and they hope to have it completely extinguished by the end of next week.

Hartselle Public Works and Hartselle Fire & Rescue have worked endless hours from the time the fire began and continue doing so, making sure they stay safe as well.

“The City of Hartselle administration and employees certainly understands the public concern over this matter, but all can be assured the landfill itself is not burning, and no hazardous materials are involved,” the official release states. “The City is not ignoring or failing to take action to manage this situation and is acting diligently, but prudently, in resolving the situation.

“As to the future, the City has recently budgeted, purchased and is installing a state-of-the-art air curtain incinerator for disposal of such materials, which will not only dispose of these materials in a manner friendly to the environment but extend the service life of the landfill significantly. The air curtain incinerator has also been approved and permitted by ADEM.”