A mountain of garbage at the Vilas County Highway G Landfill is smoldering.
The fire at the landfill located in the township of Cloverland near Eagle River, had first been reported over the weekend. Eagle River Area Fire Department Chief Pat Weber said members of his department spent a good part of the day Sunday at the landfill.
He said between water tankers from his department, the St. Germain Fire Department and the Plum Lake Fire Department, there was probably about 60,000 gallons of water used on the fire.
“We had our engine out there, our tanker plus our arial out there ... to try to get some reach,” he said. “We got it somewhat but they chased it around the base of the mountain and we knew it wasn’t out last night [Sunday].”
Weber said an excavator was brought in from Collins Excavating in Eagle River and worked the site for about three hours Sunday night.
Monday he said some of the members of his fire department returned to the landfill with an engine, the ladder truck and the department tanker.
Weber said his staff had returned Monday to try to get the pile cooled down so the landfill’s personnel could get close enough to it to pull it apart.
The fire department’s tanker poured another 7,000 gallons of water on the pile.
“It didn’t really even make a dent in it,” he said. “It’s a deep-seated fire in there and we told the people out there they need to get some big, heavy equipment and they would have to start just pushing the unburned stuff out until you can get a separation.”
He said the landfill staff were advised they couldn’t be aggressive and had to work with the wind at their backs so they wouldn’t get pushed into the smoke and the heat.
Weber admitted to not having any experience with something like this, a slow burning, smoldering fire in a trash pile in a landfill.
“There’s got to be people out there who do,” he said.
He said as landfill equipment was used to slowly tear apart the garbage mountain, one of the hazards could be what he called a “void.”
“One of the scary things about something like that is you get rooting around in there ... there may be a big void down there that’s been burning for, could be a month or more,” he said. “Somebody gets too close with a piece of equipment and it caves in, they could get trapped. I advised them of that.”
The location of the landfill posed a logistical problem for Weber’s department as well.
“It’s kind’ve out in the middle of nowhere ... on the edge of our territory and actually probably closer to Plum Lake or St. Germain. It’s not the easiest thing to haul water to.”
Another problem, he said, was the lack of snow at this point in the season.
“Normally, this time of year, you’d have plenty of snow so you could push the garbage out into the snow and cover some of that,” he said. “With the lack of snow, there’s nothing really to use except for the water we truck out there for them.”
Weber stressed that there isn’t a threat to any buildings in the area and that the biggest nuisance on something like this is the odor, although this time of year, he hasn’t heard any complaints ... yet.
“I guarantee if it was nicer weather and people had their windows open, I’m sure you’d have a garbage smell for a few miles around, whatever way the wind’s blowing,” he said. “It may just have to burn itself out because it isn’t the most accessible thing for fire apparatus.”
Mark Busha, the facility manager at the landfill, said no source had been found for the fire as of Tuesday morning.
“What we did is we just kept digging into it yesterday [Monday],” he said. “You know, it’s back in there a ways.”
Busha said it’s really difficult to find the cause for landfill fires like this.
“It’s not like it’s a surface deal,” he said. “It was subsurface and worked its way out.”
He said he believed members of his staff at the landfill had a handle on it as of Tuesday morning.
“It pretty much just looks like garbage now,” he said. “There’s no flame ... there’s some stuff that looks like smoke but it’s mostly steam because the garbage is warm.”
Busha said the Eagle River Fire Department was going to bring some more water in throughout the day Tuesday.
Brian Jopek may be reached at email@example.com.