Henrico crews battle underground fire at East End landfill

Updated: Oct. 26, 2019 at 9:19 PM EDT
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HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - The Henrico Fire Department battled a landfill fire at the East End landfill off Charles City Road on Saturday.

Crews were notified of the blaze just after midnight and have been battling the blaze around the clock.

“It’s more of a nuisance than anything, so we just want to make sure that it doesn’t get out of control,” said Henrico Fire Chief Alec Oughton.

What makes this fire different from others is that even after the visible flames were extinguished, fire crews had to tend to the flames burning beneath the trash that can’t be seen with the naked eye.

“One of the challenges with the landfill fire is that it can be deep seeded and in some cases can be underground so it makes accessing the fire difficult for our crew,” said Chief Oughton.

Henrico’s Fire robotics response team were able to locate the fire burning beneath the surface layer of landfill by using thermal drone technology. The bright orange patches the drone generates over the landfill indicate the area where the fire are burning.

Without this technology the only indication of of the fire burning below is the plumes of smoke and heat that pour through small openings on the landfill’s surface.

Thermal imaging shows the fire beneath the surface of the landfill.
Thermal imaging shows the fire beneath the surface of the landfill.(NBC12)

“Anytime you compress a bunch of trash down there are still pockets of air that exist under there so even though you cover it over with dirt there is still opportunities for the fire to smolder underground until all the fuel is consumed or the oxygen is consumed,” said Oughton.

Using tanker engines, crews transported up to 2,500 gallons of water at a time to the location of the fire and pumped that water to firefighters who sprayed the hot spots in an effort to douse the fires beneath.

Chief Oughton says crews are planning on working the scene until at least Sunday morning to get the flames under control. He adds that if the flames are allowed to flare back up it, they run the risk of allowing smoke and embers to impact nearby neighborhoods.

The challenge is to get the fire under control to the point where the landfill can bury the burned areas with dirt to smother the smoldering fires.

“We want to make sure that it stays contained to the landfill. That’s where we can make an impact,” said Chief Oughton. “There are minimal risks associated with our crews because we won’t put them in the way of certain thing like collapse zones or really in the smoke. We’re just trying to keep in check until the landfill team can put the fire out.”

Chief Oughton also says at this point outside of smell there is no health risks to the community.

At this time the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

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