Recycling center fire caused by damaged electrical conduit
CLYDE — The fire that broke out at the county’s Materials Recovery Facility just off Jones Cove Road at about 5 p.m. Sunday was caused by a damaged electrical conduit, said Johnny Glance, the Haywood County fire marshal.
"We were sort of dreading the investigation with all the stuff involved and wondering if we'd ever know what started it," said Glance, referring to the bags and bags of recyclables in the area where the fire broke out. "But when we could get it there, it was pretty easy to see the area of origin. You can't have a fire without heat, and the only heat source was the wiring."
Glance said it appeared the electric service conduit had been damaged by heavy equipment at some point in time. After that, whether rats gnawed through the insulation or whether the wire was damaged when the conduit was hit is unknown.
Firefighters from across the county were on the scene Sunday to combat the heavy black smoke billowing from the tipping floor area of the recycling center.
Junaluska Fire Chief Chuck Wood said two crews of three firefighters wore air packs and took turns entering the building area to comb through the layers of garbage and wet them down.
“We didn’t see any flames,” Wood said. “The first crews that arrived saw heavy black smoke coming from the building where the fire was contained.”
Fumes from burning plastic are dangerous, Wood said, which is why crews rotated in and out. One county maintenance worker who was assisting with fire control was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation, but was released and back on the job the next day.
Greg Shuping, Haywood County emergency management director, used a hand-held gas monitor to determine whether the air quality was safe at the scene. A carbon dioxide level of up to 50 is fine, he said, noting that early on, the level near the building entrance where the fire erupted was 122. About 50 feet away from the building where those not equipped with air packs were monitoring the scene, the level was at zero by 7 p.m. The monitor showed the percentage of oxygen in the air was at a safe level of 20.9 percent, though near the building door where the smoke still billowed out, it decreased to 18 percent, a level that made safety precautions necessary.
The Lake Logan Fire Department had its portable cascade system set up near the Head Start building down the road where oxygen bottles were being filled.
“We were filling them down there because we wanted to have clear air to fill the tanks with,” Wood said.
Stephen King, the county’s solid waste director, said only about two loads of blue bag material were on the floor when the fire started, which helped ensure the fire was contained to a small portion of the building. King said many department employees came in to move trucks out of the way and help where they could. A CWS driver even came from Asheville in case he could assist.
By Monday morning, it was business as usual at the center, except things were a big darker since the electrical service on the recyclable tipping floor hadn't yet been restored. However, the baler was on a different circuit, so municipalities and private haulers were able to continue dropping off material targeted either for baling or shipping.
"Everything is back on line and we're up and running," King said. "Everything is taken care of that needed taken care of right away.
King said praised the department employees as well as emergency departments on the scene. He said there is no way of knowing the amount of damage at this point, but said a section of the building would likely need to be replaced. The county has insurance in place to cover this type of incident.