Tires at recycling plant mysteriously catch fire

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 22, 2002

Seen as far away as North Carolina, black smoke infiltrated Suffolk’s skies Saturday afternoon as some 30,000 tires mysteriously burned at the Southeastern Public Services Authority (SPSA) landfill on Route 58.

Fire officials were called to the scene around 12:23 p.m., according to Capt. Jim Judkins, public information officer for the Suffolk Fire Department. Initial response time to the landfill was within five minutes of the call, said Judkins, and the area was quickly contained to avoid potential danger to the surroundings. Some 100 firefighters and members of area clean-up crews were on site at SPSA’s recycling facility, where the tires were housed.

Bulldozers were used to move tires that were not ablaze away from the fire to expedite efforts, as the sound of tires popping off the rims reverberated. From the onset, a lack of fire hydrants at SPSA proved challenging, which required workers to shuttle water from a nearby pond to the site. Navy fire units lending assistance provided use of equipment that pumped 2500 gallons of water per minute to the area.

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Despite all the needed manpower on hand and equipment, the best way to extinguish the fire is to just let the tires burn, said Judkins, who said the burning would likely continue for the next 24 to 36 hours. Water is being used to protect the exposures around the burning tires.

&uot;More environmental damage would be done trying to put the fire out with water,&uot; which would cause contamination to the ground and water, said Judkins. To counter potential pollution to water sources, dirt was brought in to fill ditches on the SPSA property that feed into holding ponds.

Use of a foam truck proved most effective at the blaze, said Judkins. He explained that the trucks contain a fire-fighting agent equivalent in appearance to capsulated soapsuds that penetrate and smother fires of this origin.

As SPSA Public Information Officer Felicia Walker-Blow surveyed the fire, she stated that the cause of the blaze is unknown. She noted that the facility meets all operational requirements, and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) guidelines. This is the first fire to occur at the recycling facility since its opening in 1988, said Blow.

Tires are never intentionally burned at the SPSA facility, but instead recycled. Rubber and the steel cords are separated prior to processing at the recycling facility. Monetary damage had not been determined as of the last news briefing. The fire remains under investigation.

Crews responding to the scene, in addition to the Suffolk Fire Department, included regional and private Hazardous Materials units, the Navy, Chesapeake and Portsmouth fire units.