One of three of the nearly-20-foot-high piles of flammable debris collected over the past two months after Hurricane Matthew caught fire Tuesday morning and continues to burn today, though the fire consumed much of the pile. The fire was not intentional.
“This was an accident,” Palm Coast Fire Chief Mike Beadle said. “We just have to let it burn. It burned way down.” The fire sent smoke onto Palm Coast’s B Section, but because the pile was made up almost entirely of dry wood, it burned very efficiently, Beadle said, creating less smoke than a typical wildfire. Still, its proximity to nearby woods and the B Section was a concern to the city.
The fire was the likely result of a more controlled fire pit nearby, where the city’s contractor in charge of hauling off the debris across the city had set up an incinerator. The method is used across the state and in the nation, Beadle said. A pit was dug in the ground, debris from the piles was dumped in, the debris was incinerated, and a “sheet” of air was blown on top of the pit so as to disperse and contain the smoke, thus reducing the impact considerably. The method was to be used to burn off all three piles.
“Either that failed yesterday or for some reason they shut it down to reload,” Beadle said. “Some embers came out, being as dry it got into one of the smaller piles and caught fire.”
The city will not continue with the controlled burning, City Manager Jim Landon said. “We’re going to go the expensive route, we’re going to go to chipping at this point,” he told the city council Tuesday. “It’s more expensive, it’s probably not as efficient,” but he said it’s safer than continuing to burn wood next a forest.
The cost, according to Chris Quinn, the city’s finance director: $500,000. The sum is eligible for reimbursement by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration. But how much of that will be reimbursed is not known for now.
The fire coincided with the city’s completion of debris pick-up, which collected 127,856 cubic yards of vegetative debris and 224,245 pounds of treated wood and construction or demolition debris, according to Palm Coast’s Cindi Lane.
There are still some remaining piles of construction-type debris such as fence panels on some streets, and the hurricane debris contractor will be picking those up from Palm Coast neighborhoods over the next few days, the city announced in a release issued this afternoon. But aside from the addresses already on that list, no additional hurricane debris pickups will be made–-whether for vegetative (branches, leaves) or construction-type debris.
Vegetative debris amounting to 4 cubic yards or less (bagged, canned or loose debris) is still collected by Waste Pro as part of Palm Coast’s regular, weekly yard trash collection service. Larger piles will be tagged with a price, and property owners will have the option of either having Waste Pro picking up the pile and paying that price, or making arrangements to have it picked up.
Lane said the debris pile that caught fire required an emergency response Tuesday morning, but there was little firefighters could do. Beadle said the firefighters could have doused the pile with water uninterruptedly: it would not have made much difference, but would have created more smoke and endangered responders.
The pile is expected to smolder and smoke for several days, Beadle said, comparing the pile to a coal fire. But it’s contained. “We are watching it, we are monitoring it,” the fire chief said. “There’s no structure anywhere near this thing. We’ll just take it from there. It’s all we can do.”