Second fire at S. Salt Lake compost pile draws neighbors' ire
South Salt Lake • The second and worst of two fires within the past week at a hill-sized South Salt Lake compost pile has firefighters, neighboring businesses and city officials concerned.
Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Bowman acknowledged Friday that angry business owners adjacent to the Diamond Tree Experts' DT Green Waste Disposal site have expressed their dismay to him, and for good reason.
"I heard about it all night," he said after the 60-foot-high, roughly acre wide pile at 3645 S. 500 West ignited, filling the Thursday evening skies with flame and smoke. "I know the city is getting involved. We've got to get something figured out with this. ... At least, maybe the size of the pile could be reduced."
Calls to Diamond Tree Experts' Salt Lake City offices Thursday went unanswered, but Fire Marshal Boyd Johnson said at an afternoon news conference that the company was fully cooperative during a meeting with him late Thursday morning.
"It was a very productive meeting," Johnson said. "I understand that at least half of the [compost] pile has been removed already."
He also said that water is being continuously applied to the pile which apparently ignited by spontaneous combustion.
Cutting back the size of the pile should help reduce the chances for yet another major fire at the site, Bowen had indicated earlier.
Johnson did not offer details of other measures planned by the company and city officials, but he confirmed the scene had been "red tagged," restricting access for the immediate future. He did say the application of the current city fire code, and possible changes to it, were in the mix.
Diamond Tree was given a business licence in January 2006 because it met the requirements at the time for light industrial zoning, according to South Salt Lake Community Development Director Mike Florence. City code has changed since then, he said, but Diamond Tree is grandfathered in.
There have been previous complaints about Diamond Tree but the company has always been found to be in compliance, South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood said. The complaints have usually been about blowing dust and debris.
John Hoggan, of the Salt Lake County Health Department's environmental health division, said Diamond Tree has addressed the complaints by keeping the compost pile watered down, and had passed its annual inspection on March 31. He did tell the company on June 30 that the compost pile was too high, he said.
The latest fire the last was on July 3 was reported at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. But unlike the first blaze, this one spread to two adjacent businesses. Bowman said preliminary estimates for damage were high: the American West Analytical Laboratories building sustained at least $500,000 in lost contents alone, and structural damage could add that much or more to the bill.
Phones at American West were knocked out by the fire. Lab director Kyle Gross said he had spoken with Johnson earlier in the week about the danger of new fires.
Other business owners in the area also said they are concerned.
"I think they should shut them down," Bill Archer, who identified himself only as an adjacent property owner, told KUTV News. "It doesn't matter how much tax money that they're generating for South Salt Lake. How much money is this costing the fire department? Maybe lives if someone got hurt."
At one point during the fire, staff at the nearby Camp Bow Wow business prepared to evacuate up to 60 dogs in their care, but the flames never reached the building and operations resumed as normal Friday.
"I was scared to death," admitted owner Sharon Opfermann, who does not believe Diamond Tree is an appropriate business for the community.
"They're trying hard to be a good neighbor, but heavy industry simply does not fit well in a light industrial center," Opfermann said. "I attended the city's press conference today ... and was extremely disappointed in the outcome. [Diamond Tree] is grandfathered in and the city is taking very little action to resolve this problem."
Daily's Premium Meats had less extensive damage to its roofing from the fire, whichgrew so intense at its height that a nearby portion of Interstate 15 had to be shut down.
Crews were at the scene through the night and had to briefly return at 7 a.m. when smoke began again to pour from the American West structure's roofing.
By 9 a.m., Bowen and his exhausted crews had cleared the scene.
Fire investigators will look into the cause of the blaze, but Bowen said it initially appeared to be the same as on July 3: spontaneous combustion, caused by a combination of recent hot, dry weather and the heat naturally generated within the pile by the composting process.
Sixty-five firefighters fought the blaze, aided by a fleet of water-pumping engines, ladder trucks and other heavy equipment. One firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation, but was reported to be fine. No other injuries were noted.
Fire Chief Ron Morris characterized the blaze as "the equivalent of a three-alarm" fire in terms of response. "It stretched our resources considerably," he said.
"A lot of guys put their lives on the line and were able to stop that fire," Morris added, noting that winds kicked up to 50 to 60 mph at one point, blowing fire hose streams back onto crews.
In addition to South Salt Lake firefighters, crews from Taylorsville, Murray, Unified Fire Authority, Salt Lake City, Sandy, Cottonwood Heights, Riverton, Draper and West Valley City responded.
New regulations being considered
The South Salt Lake City Council has scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Wednesday to consider an ordinance imposing additional fire code requirements related to the outdoor storage of wood chips and associated materials. The meeting will be held in council chambers at 220 E. Morris Ave.