Underground fire in Alabama still burning after 3 months

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — An underground fire at an illegal dump in Alabama has been burning since May, but officials are hopeful it will be put out soon.

The fire is smoldering under layers of mostly construction and demolition waste at a site north of Birmingham on a hillside behind multiple homes south of Interstate 22, Al.com reported.

Jefferson County Deputy County Manager Cal Markert said county crews are using heavy equipment to remove truckloads of waste, dirt and debris to access whatever is burning underneath, spraying it with water to ensure it is no longer burning and then hauling it to a permitted landfill.

“There’s stuff burning mixed all throughout, not just in one spot,” Markert said “You’ve got to kind of sort through the whole thing to get to what’s smoking to get it all out.

“We’re hoping it’s all closer to the outside edges where we’re digging and we can get it out pretty quick, but I just don’t know.”

Markert said the county is hauling away about 700 tons of material per day from the site.

Because of the size of the site, which spans multiple properties, Markert said it was impossible to pinpoint a single source of the fire or to put it out with water.

“The fire department was out there months ago and they put thousands and thousands and thousands of gallons of water on it and have been trying to put it out,” Markert said. “It got to the point where, legally, the commission wanted to step in with some equipment and help.”

Jason Howanitz, a senior air pollution control engineer at the Jefferson County Department of Health, said the fire could flare up as the crews uncover more smoldering material and give it air. But, he said, that process was necessary to get the fire extinguished.

“This is probably going to be some of the heaviest smoke, and we told the residents that it could get worse before it gets better,” he said.

Howanitz said fires at dump sites can happen when people ignore dumping regulations and can cause serious air quality issues for nearby residents.

“People don’t realize this is what happens when you illegally dump, and don’t do it per regulatory oversight,” Howanitz said. “There are certain things you’re supposed to do to prevent this kind of thing from happening.”

Markert urged citizens to report illegal dumps to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management for investigation.

It will “save the tax payer money and our environment,” Markert said.