Cause of Pigeon Forge landfill fire unknown

Smoldering waste, chemical reaction among possible culprits
Sep. 13, 2013 @ 11:18 PM

Wednesday’s fire at the county landfill was extinguished by Thursday, but it serves as a reminder to people delivering waste that they need to make sure what they’re dropping off is safe.

“No one got hurt and everything’s out,” Pigeon Forge Fire Chief Tony Watson said Thursday morning.

He thanked the other departments that assisted with getting the fire contained and then extinguished.

It wasn’t the first time firefighters have been called to the landfill, and Watson said they’ve started to get a good idea what to do when they get a call.

“We’re getting it down to a fine science, unfortunately,” he said.

The incident happened late in the afternoon, and Sevier Solid Waste Director Tom Leonard notified the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation about it Thursday morning, as required under state regulations. He expected an inspector to come by sometime this week.

Leonard said the remains of the blaze were examined Thursday, but its cause was unknown.

The fire was contained in the construction and demolition section of the landfill.

Because the fire started there, someone may have brought in remains from a fire that were still smoldering, Leonard said.

That could mean it came from a house fire, he said, and occasionally people have brought charcoal from campgrounds that could still start a fire.

It could also mean that someone burned garbage and tossed the remains in with other items they carried to the landfill.

If someone was burning garbage in their backyard, that person likely was breaking the law, Leonard said. “They’re not supposed to have burn barrels anyway, so they shouldn’t burn garbage.”

Regardless of what they were burning, Leonard encouraged people bringing waste to the landfill to let the staff there know if their dropoffs include anything that has recently been in a fire.

“Make us aware at the scale house that it’s in there,” he said.

The staff can separate those materials to make sure they’re safe before putting them in the landfill, he explained.

While that’s the cause that appeared the most likely for Wednesday’s fire, Leonard said there are some chemicals that could have caused it — especially chlorine.

If chlorine comes in contact with motor oil, it can cause a fiery explosion that could spread quickly, he said — and that includes solids and powders as well as liquid.

“People don’t think of those as being dangerous, but they are,” he said.

After the latest incident, Leonard said he is considering adding a taller viewpoint at the scale house. His personnel can’t always see into the bigger trucks when they come through, and he hopes they’ll have a better chance at spotting problems with a higher vantage point.