The fire was reported around 5 p.m. at Recology Grover Environmental Products, a compost, solid waste facility off Interstate 5 and Gaffery Road in Vernalis, according to Fire Division Chief Jeff Gregory of West Stanislaus County Fire Protection District.
The waste, mostly comprised of wood chips and leftover food scraps from restaurants, created a sudden internal combustion on Saturday afternoon, said Division Chief Gregory. He states the call lasted 6 hours, ending in a 5 acre long and 25-foot high pile of compost-fire, on Saturday alone.
Once the fire was confined, firefighters handed the reigns over to Recology, where the pile was kept under strict supervision by their staff. Recology workers have since been in the field, attempting to put out the flames throughout the week.
Local fire agencies have been making hourly trips to the site as of Tuesday. To Gregory’s knowledge, much of the fire has been put out, but the smoke clouds have consumed the skies, drifting over Patterson’s air quality.
Almost every staff member at Recology was out taming the flames and were unavailable for comments at that time.
“The company is still working to get the smoke taken care of,” said Gregory on Monday, July 22.
According to Gregory, the fire was still burning on Monday, but not at a threatening pace. However, due to the wet compost, the company and local firefighters are finding it difficult to keep the smoke at bay, which is consuming the airways throughout Stanislaus and San Joaquin Valley.
“Our only concern is the smoke,” said Gregory. “We have a little bit of overcast, which is keeping all the smoke in, instead of letting it out.”
As a result, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District visited the compost location to provide an onsite investigation.
According to Jaime Holt, chief communications officer of the San Joaquin Valley APCD, the monitors have yet to indicate that anyone in either Vernalis or Patterson’s communities were under any direct effect.
“We haven’t seen any huge spikes in the air quality,” said Holt at 3 p.m. Monday. “But we are working with the facility to keep the impact under control.”
Despite their numbers, Holt remarked that five citizens within the Vernalis community called for their services. A number of Patterson residents have also provided their own insight about the impacts of the smoke, noting the smell and burning sensations they’ve received in their eyes.
Despite reassurances from the local fire department and the San Joaquin Valley APCD, many residents remained skeptical about the air quality.
By Tuesday, however, Chief Gregory stated that Recology had acquired a helicopter to dump water on the burning pile of wood chips, trimmings and restaurant waste.
“I would say the smoke is down by 40 percent,” said Gregory on Tuesday at 10:12 a.m. “We have water trucks going, a helicopter and a crew determined to put this thing out. We are moving forward.”
Gregory suspects the compost-fire will continue to burn for a couple more days before it will be fully extinguished.
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