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A Feb. 18 photo by Alabama Department of Environmental Management inspectors shows a smoldering brush pile at the Hartselle municipal landfill. ADEM plans to fine the city for the fire. [ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT]

Hartselle to be fined $1,500 for landfill fire that burned for weeks

By Marian Acardi

For the Enquirer

A fire that began in February and burned for weeks at the Hartselle landfill on Lovelady Street Northwest violated state burning regulations, according to the state, and the city has agreed to pay a $1,500 fine.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management proposed the civil penalty. People may submit written comments, including a request for a hearing, to the agency within 30 days of the notice that was issued Friday.

According to a Feb. 18 email filed with ADEM by Josh Stewart, an ADEM employee at the Decatur branch, the brush fire began Feb. 13 and the landfill manager was “unsure how the fire started because that area of the pile wasn’t actively receiving waste thereby ruling out the possibility of a hot load.”

Landfill crews, the Hartselle Fire Department and Hartselle Public Works removed some debris from the pile of vegetation and dug ditches around it to prevent the fire from spreading, according to Stewart.

“Smoke was noted across downtown Hartselle,” Stewart wrote. “I actually noticed the burning odor when coming up Highway 31 from the south as it intersects I-65.”

The pile was 200 feet long by 50 feet wide by 30 feet tall when Stewart inspected it.

“It was burning from the inside out and that’s why it was so difficult to put it out,” Mayor Randy Garrison said Friday.

Efforts to extinguish the fire were complicated by the fact that the city’s only excavator was in disrepair and was not fixed until a week after the fire started. Even after it became available, the city said in a press release at the time, the work was slow because the excavator’s scoop would become overheated by the fire and had to be cooled frequently.

A retaining pond was dug around the burning pile so that water used to extinguish the fire was retained and did not pollute a stream 50 feet from the pile, according to the city.

ADEM, which enforces the provisions of the state’s Air Pollution Control Act, became aware of a fire at the site Feb. 16 through a voicemail from the landfill, according to the proposed consent order. Between Feb. 22 and March 8, ADEM received numerous complaints from residents about the fire.

In a March 1 press release, Hartselle said the brush pile at the landfill had spontaneously combusted. The release explained that the brush pile consisted of limbs, pieces of trees and small brush picked up from homes or brought to the landfill by Hartselle residents. It said the material in the brush pile was all-natural plant material that normally was ground into mulch periodically during the year, but in this case the material combusted internally during normal chemical and physical breakdown.

According to the order, ADEM personnel on March 2 conducted a follow-up inspection of the site and observed that the pile was still smoldering.

Garrison said the city has since purchased an air curtain incinerator to dispose of these materials on a weekly basis, which will eliminate the hazard in the future. The incinerator, which is at another location in the city, is also expected to extend the service life of the landfill.

It’s purchased, permitted (by ADEM) and operating,” said Garrison, who has signed the proposed consent order.

ADEM said in the proposed order that the landfill failed to implement procedures to prevent unauthorized open burning at the landfill. “The department considers this violation to be serious,” the order said.

Further, ADEM said there appeared to be inadequate care taken by the landfill to comply with applicable requirements of the agency’s administrative code.

“At the time of the violation, there were limited efforts by the landfill to mitigate possible effects of this violation upon the environment,” according to ADEM.

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