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Six-figure bill likely for landfill fire; insurance covers little

Willmar firefighters Darwin Melin, left, and Howard Carlson spray water Oct. 23 on smoldering garbage at the Kandiyohi County landfill. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- The final cost to put out a stubborn fire at the Kandiyohi County landfill won't be known for some time, but it could reach six figures.

Just paying for the 832,500 gallons of water and 14,075 gallons of foam that was put on the fire will be costly.

There are also fees that must be paid to the seven different area fire departments that were at the site on and off over a 10-day period.

"I know it could be in the six figures," said Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl. "It's a big bite, and I'm very concerned about it."

With little insurance money available, the county is looking for ways to pay the bill.

The coverage the county has with the Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust will provide only about $5,000, Kleindl said.

There's another $30,000 available in a landfill financial assurance fund that's reserved for operation cost, but the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has to approve that expenditure, said Jeff Bredberg, Kandiyohi County Environmental Services Director.

Kleindl said he will be pursuing discussions about the costs and options for paying them. He said the county is responsible for paying the costs for extinguishing the fire and the fire departments that responded will be reimbursed.

"We're not going to stick the fire departments with this bill," said Kleindl. "We'll find the revenue to do it."

Kleindl reiterated that it would have been against the law to let the fire burn. He said he received a dozen calls from residents wondering why costly efforts were being taken to put out the fire.

The MPCA's primary concern was about air pollution from things such as burning plastics, vinyl siding and shingles in the demolition landfill, said Bredberg.

Bredberg told the County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that he was "crossing his fingers" there were no more hot spots discovered in the debris that would require fire departments to be called to the scene again.

The situation started Oct. 22 when a landfill employee saw smoke coming from the demolition site. Crews excavated 25 feet down into the old demolition debris and saturated the area with water and foam.

The fire flared up again last week and fire crews were called back out. Bredberg said there was no sign of more smoke or fire this week, but he said the area "looks like a big bomb hit it."

Comparing it to a fermenting silage pile or hay bales, Bredberg said it's likely the fire in the buried demolition debris started because of spontaneous combustion.

"The good news is no one was hurt," said Kleindl. And since the fire involved demolished construction materials that had been buried for two to five years, there were no personal property losses.

Kleindl praised the volunteer firefighters for working in cold, windy and rainy conditions at the site. He said it was a "mud hole out there" and many of the firefighters were taking vacation time from their regular jobs to be at the site. "We want the departments to know how much we appreciate what they've done."

Bredberg said he'll seek a variance from the MPCA to let the site remain unburied for some time to make sure the fire is out.


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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