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Chautauqua County Tire Fire

On April 23, 1995 a scrap tire stockpile, consisting of 5-6 million tires, caught fire in Chautauqua County, New York. The location of the fire was 40 miles southwest of Buffalo, New York. The surrounding areas were mainly rural and agricultural, but approximately 50 residences and one school had to be evacuated.(Olson, 4/25/95) The stockpile area covered almost 7 acres of land and had tires piled 15-30 feet high. (Olson, 4/27/95) The immediate problems caused by the tire fire were mainly dealing with the plume of thick, black smoke that hovered over the surrounding areas. The tire fire was quickly contained by county and local highway crews, and some private contractors.(Olson, 4/25/95) A fire wall, or earthen berm, was built around the burning tires to contain the flames from spreading to the other scrap tires. (Husted, 4/25/95) Approximately 2 million of the estimated 6 million tires actually were engulfed in flames. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) was called to the site to incorporate ponds and pipelines to contain oil run-off. Water and contaminated substances were funneled out of the berm and into containment ponds that were dug nearby. (Husted, 4/25/95) The containment ponds were lined with chemical matter to prevent the seepage of toxic substances into the ground.( Husted, 4/25/95) The materials collected in these ponds were removed by tankers and shipped from the area to be recycled.(Husted, 4/25/95)

Effects of the Fire

The burning tires sent thick, black smoke into the air that could be seen for miles. Residence in the surrounding areas that had any type of respiratory problems were asked to evacuate their homes to prevent any possible problems. (Olson, 4/26/95) On April 24, 1995 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was called to the site of the tire fire to monitor and sample air quality in the surrounding areas. At 2300 hours on April 24, 1995 there was no significant toxic readings upwind, but within the plume 200 units on the Organic Vapor Analyzer were indicated. The EPA activated the Emergency Response Clean-Up Services on April 27, 1995 to uncover the smoldering pile of tires and smother the burning tires with soil. No water was added to the fire for fear of increased run-off and contamination.(Olson, 4/26/95) The Sinclairville Fire Department, the fire department responsible for the stockpile area, had an emergency plan in case of a such a problem. (Figure 1) The local officials were well prepared for a possible tire fire and had an emergency plan also. State and federal officials were called in immediately and assisted with the environmental procedures. The Environmental Protection Agency air sample taken on April 29, 1995 showed no significant readings a quarter of a mile away from the fire. Within the plume there was a presence of PolyAromatic Hydrocarbons, Benzene and Toluene. These substances were what the county health officials predicted would be released from such a fire. Data collected from other tire fires of this magnitude have showed that hydrocarbons are usually released in significant , but not dangerous amounts. On May 1, 1995 the fire was officially declared out and the federal and state services were removed from the site. Soil samples collected four months after the blaze first engulfed showed only minor amounts of contamination. The levels were only substantial and didn¹t call for any clean-up techniques.(Husted, 8/11/95) The tire fire reignited numerous times throughout the following months, but nothing serious enough to call in the environmental officials. Fire officials believe the cause of these reignitions was an underground hot spot that had a strong release due to a buildup of pressure.(Husted, 8/11/95)

Fire Fighting Techniques

One reason that water was not used to help contain the tire fire was the possibility of increased run-off of oil substances. Officials believed that by letting the tires burn there would be less of an effect on the environment.(Kubera, 4/25/95) They used data collected from other sites to come to this conclusion.(Kubera, 4/25/95) When tires burn they produce a petroleum product in the liquid form. If water was added to this substance the chances of run-off problems would significantly increase. This substance would then contaminate greater amounts surrounding soil and water samples.(Olson, 4/26/95) Another important reason that this particular fire tire was not extinguished with water was the presence of a huge aquifer across the road from the fire. The elevation maps of the surrounding areas show a steep decline in elevation going from the area of the tire fire towards the area of the aquifer.(Figure 2) The force of gravity will speed up the oil run-off process and the addition of water could have been devastating to the aquifer and other surrounding areas. This aquifer is of major importance to the entire county and it¹s protection from pollution was a major concern of all of the involved parties. The aquifer supplies drinking water to several municipalities in the county , including the city of Jamestown.(Kubera, 4/25/95) The city of Jamestown is the largest city in Chautauqua County and has a population of approximately 60, 000 people. The Environmental Protection Agency has found no signs of contamination to the aquifer. The monitoring of this site is continuous to ensure safe drinking water for the majority of the county¹s suburban citizens. The contamination ponds that were dug were arranged in such a way as to increase the oil run-off before it reached the aquifer. The ponds that were dug did a tremendous job of diverting the oil run-off before it contaminated the drinking water of much of the county.

Legal Battle of Responsibility

The problems with this particular tire fire go far beyond the immediate environmental problems. Legal battles are still occurring concerning the clean-up of the burnt tires along with the clean-up of the remaining 4 million tires that did not get engulfed in the 1995 tire fire. The original owner of the property has passed away leaving his estate to his wife. A task force was set up 10 years ago to try to solve this dilemma concerning the environmental hazards of a scrap tire stockpile of such a magnitude. (Husted, 7/21/95) A plan was assembled at this time to deal with the consequences of a possible fire. The property owners claim that the state and federal officials involved with this task force provided them no assistance when they wanted to clean up the site, so they refuse to pay for the clean-up of the site now. The property owners are pressing charges against anyone and everyone involved in hopes that a judge will find someone other than them liable. On June 30, 1995 the state of New York placed the responsibility of clean-up, restoration, and any remediation that needs to take place at the 1995 tire fire site onto the owners of the property. The Department of Environmental Conservation sent a letter to the owners ordering clean-up action to be taken.(Husted, 7/27/95)

Influence of the Fire

The 1995 tire fire is serving as a ³wake-up call² for other scrap tire stockpiles in Chautauqua County.(Josephson, 3/6/96) Area environmental committee members are looking at other tire dumps in the area and realizing the potential hazards of a possible fire. One stockpile is located closer to the city of Jamestown in a primarily urban area. If a fire were to break out numerous homes and schools would be need to be evacuated. The law makers are working on a plan that would bring in prisoners from a local correctional facility to assist in the removal of the scrap tires.(Josephson, 3/6/96) These types of plans need to be placed into action more readily all over the state and the country. Some type of alternate disposal plan needs to be put into effect so that the potential problems with air, soil, and water pollution from a tire fire can be eliminated.

Dangerous Substances Associated with Tire Fires

A small scale simulated tire fires have been the focus of various studies over the past 4 or 5 years. These studies have been performed to attempt to determine the toxic chemicals released into the environment during and after a fire that engulfs numerous scrap tires. The researchers found that harmful combustion products as well as products of incomplete combustion(PIC¹s) were emitted into the atmosphere during the burning of scrap tires. (Ryan, 1993) During the study, it was found that the total estimated emissions of semi-volatile organics ranged from 10 to 50 g/kg of the tire burned. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons(as seen in the Chautuaqua Co. tire fire) were the major emitted products of a simulated tire fire. (Ryan, 1993) Increased levels of lead and zinc were also observed in this study.(Ryan, 1993) The results of these studies are being used to assist firefighters and pollution control agencies in case of a possible scrap tire stockpile fire. Guidelines have been set by The National Fire Prevention Association and the Factory Mutual Systems Loss Prevention Guides to reduce fire risks and severity of scrap tire fires. Fire prevention is a major concept that is stressed by these organizations. Proper storing techniques, access routes, and fire suppression materials are listed as important scrap tire fire prevention techniques.

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