County landfill fire nearly out

Aspen Times staff report
Aspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy Pitkin CountyFlames are visible in a pile of wood chips Thursday evening at the Pitkin County landfill. Crews worked through the night to extinguish the blaze.

ASPEN – Calm winds made it possible for crews to work through the night Thursday to control and nearly fully extinguish a fire at the Pitkin County Landfill.

A pile of decomposing wood chips spontaneously combusted more than a week ago. The stubborn fire forced the closure of the landfill for a few hours Thursday afternoon to eliminate the possibility of truckloads of trash and debris igniting.

The initial plan was to allow the fire to burn through the night, but when winds calmed after dark Thursday evening, a crew on the scene determined that it was safe to spread the embers out in a thin layer and cover them with dirt.

“The incident is over as far as we’re concerned,” said Brian Pettet, Pitkin County public works director, on Friday in a prepared statement. “The fire is out except for a few hot spots. We discovered that it wasn’t burning as deeply into the wood-chip piles as we had originally believed. That made it easier for us to disburse the smoldering chips and extinguish the blaze.”

Because the piles are surrounded by snow and away from any structures, officials were not concerned about a wildfire or a threat to nearby neighborhoods.

Contractor Pitkin County Waste Systems used front loaders and hauling trucks to spread out the embers,” Pettet said. He credited Jason Ferguson, landfill operations supervisor, for staying at the scene through the night.

The landfill was closed for a short time after 2 p.m. Thursday, but opened for business as usual Friday at 7:30 a.m.

“Crews overnight did such a good job putting out the fire that we did not have to move the location where we normally bury garbage and trash,” Pettet said.

Landfill officials have already discussed how to avoid similar fires in the wood chips, where such incidents have occurred before. The steps include storing the chips in smaller piles and arranging them in rows to help keep the chips cooler. In addition, a system will be established to send out the chips that have been sitting the longest – and “cooked” the longest – first as the material is purchased for landscaping, a landfill spokesperson said. The landfill chips wood and brush that is brought to the facility to create the product.