Dumpster fire near Birmingham has been burning for almost a month

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — An underground fire has been raging for almost a month at a environmental landfill near Birmingham, engulfing Alabama’s largest metro area with smoke.

State officials, local fire departments and county commissions are now trying to determine next steps and who will bear the costs of extinguishing, al.com reported.

The fire broke out about a month ago in St. Environmental Landfill, Inc. of Clair County. started at the facility. James Mulkey, a fire inspector with the Moody Fire Department, told the department the first call regarding the fire came around 7:45 am on November 25.

“The fire went into the rubble pile, which was huge,” Mulkey said. “We’ve heard that the actual size of the pile of debris is between 23 and 50 acres, and it’s multi-layered. In some places this thing is 100-150 feet deep. We’re not sure about the way it was built. They would bring something in, heap soil on top of it, and then put another layer.

Mulkey said the fire is now almost completely underground.

“There is very little flame activity above ground,” Mulkey said. “If you see a flame, it’s coming out of a crack or crevice in the ground, and all the smoke is coming out of the ground.”

Putting out the fire will be “critical” but difficult due to its location, according to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management update released Thursday.

The update states, “Unauthorized solid waste (i.e., non-vegetable) appears to have been removed from the site following an ADEM enforcement action prior to the fire.”

The landfill is not regulated by ADEM because it only needs to accept “green waste”, things like storm debris, leaves and twigs, and plant material. In reality, tires and other materials were found at the dump in the middle of the fire.

ADEM Chief of Foreign Affairs Lynn Battle said the agency is investigating potential illegal litter at the site.

“ADEM is aware that there is some unauthorized solid waste on this site. ADEM will determine appropriate enforcement actions upon completion of its investigation and review of relevant information, Battle told al.com via email.

Mulkey said he saw tires at the disposal site, but didn’t want to speculate on whether there was any other unauthorized waste in the burning pile. Efforts to reach landfill owners for comment via email and phone were unsuccessful.

ADEM has warned residents living near the facility to limit outdoor activities, install high-efficiency filters in heating and air conditioning systems, and cover their homes with caulk or other materials where outside air can leak in.

The ministry also said that smog will continue to be a problem for a while and “those with respiratory health problems may consider relocating temporarily”.

The fire broke out in the unincorporated St. Clair County is on fire. The Moody Fire Department responded first as it was closest to the fire, but the area is not in their jurisdiction. The Alabama Forestry Commission and St. Clair County Commission to make decisions, but agencies want to take more aggressive steps to put out the flames.

“All options are on the table,” Mulkey said. “Letting it burn on its own was an option we were looking at, but we realized it was pretty deep (fire) and we can’t really give a timeline on that.”

There is also the issue of who will make the final decision on a plan of action and who will pay for it.

“This is unincorporated St. Clair County, so the county commission will have a lot of say,” Mulkey said. “As for the regulators and who is ultimately responsible and financially responsible for this thing, that’s still the subject of some debate.”

ADEM first investigates the fire to see if violations have occurred that can be prosecuted after the fire has been extinguished.

The Jefferson County Health Department, which regulates air pollution in the Birmingham area, said it had received complaints of odor but the problem was outside of its jurisdiction.

Michael Hansen, executive director of Birmingham area air quality group GASP, said the government’s response was inadequate.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that government agencies are not doing more to protect people from this dangerous air pollution event,” Hansen said. “We need a multi-agency state and local response to this situation.”

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