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Fire at the landfill may have been smoldering for years

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NEW LONDON -- Spontaneous combustion, or embers unintentionally buried among construction materials, may have started a four-day fire at Kandiyohi County landfill.

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The true cause may never be known, said Jeff Bredberg, director of Kandiyohi County environmental services, but he said it's possible the fire could've been smoldering for years before a thin stream of smoke was discovered coming from the ground on Thursday.

The smoldering debris, including old lumber, windows, vinyl siding, shingles and other building materials, was located in an area of the demolition site that hadn't been used for three to five years, said Bredberg.

Heavy machinery was used to dig a trench around the smoky area. Debris was excavated at least 25 feet deep before fire crews found the source of the smoke. When they hit a "hot spot" there was a small burst of flames, said Bredberg. "In reality, there wasn't a lot of fire."

Bredberg speculated the fire may have been festering for several years, much like a peat fire.

The incident taxed area fire departments over the weekend.

During a total of 41-hours from Thursday through Sunday, there were between six and 35 firefighters at the scene at any given time, said New London Fire Chief Sig Holme.

Several firefighters even spent a night at the landfill to make sure the fire didn't start up again. After thinking at first it was a prank, a pizza delivery was made to firefighters that night.

Holme, who was there for nearly all of those 41 hours, hadn't had time to figure out the bill to fight the fire, but he indicated it could be costly.

The New London fire department received assistance from Spicer, Pennock, Sunburg, Willmar and Belgrade fire departments. Holme said those hours may have exceeded the mutual aid contract, which could make the cost go even higher.

Along with saturating the area with water, a considerable amount of foam was also used to contain the fire, which will put additional costs onto the bill.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said he's already notified the county's insurance carrier, the Minnesota County Insurance Trust, to let them know about the incident. Because so few counties own landfills Kleindl said it's unsure how much of the fire-fighting cost will be covered.

"We'll find the revenue to cover the expenses," said Kleindl.

Some people have questioned why the fire was even put out.

Bredberg said letting the fire burn would've been against the law. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency requires landfill fires to be extinguished.

"You can't just walk away and ignore it," said Kleindl. "There are laws in place and we take them very seriously."

Holme said if the fire had been left to burn, it could've created empty underground pockets that could have collapsed when vehicles drove over the top in the future.

Bredberg said on Monday the fire was under control but will be monitored for several days to make sure there are no more flare-ups. The debris will eventually be covered again with dirt, he said.

Bredberg praised Holme for coordinating the six different fire departments over the four-day period, and thanked the area fire departments for putting in long hours put out the fire.

"They did an excellent job," said Bredberg. "They worked really well together."

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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