Wednesday, February 22, 2017

3-alarm fire after large piles of garbage caught fire at the Sakoutis Brothers Disposal in South Plainfield, New Jersey

Firefighters work at the scene of a three-alarm blaze at a garbage transfer station on Roosevelt Avenue in South Plainfield on Monday night. South Plainfield Volunteer Fire Department 

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NEW JERSEY -- Dozens of firefighters worked for more than five hours Monday night to put out a three-alarm fire at a trash transfer station in South Plainfield, officials said. 

Large piles of garbage caught fire at the Sakoutis Brothers Disposal around 7:45 p.m, the South Plainfield Volunteer Fire Department said. No one was in the building.

The 65 firefighters brought the fire under control around 1 a.m.

One firefighter was treated at the scene for a minor injury.

The South Plainfield Fire Prevention Bureau is investigating to determine the cause of the fire.

Two fire companies from Piscataway (New Market and North Stelton), two from Woodbridge (Colonia and Iselin) as as well as firefighters from Metuchen and Plainfield assisted. The Middlesex County Hazardous Materials Unit, South Plainfield EMS and the borough's office of emergency management also took part.

More than 100 firefighters battled a blaze at the iconic Marcal Paper Mills in Elmwood Park, NJ

ELMWOOD PARK, NEW JERSEY — Firefighters battled a blaze at the iconic Marcal Paper Mills in Elmwood Park on Monday evening, officials said.

The fire began at the warehouse on Market Street just after 4:30 p.m., officials said. It was under control just before 7 p.m.

Authorities said more than 100 firefighters from 20 towns helped battle the fire.

"You had to be way ahead of yourself in case this thing took off," Elmwood Park Mayor Robert Colletti said. "We were ready for it."

There were no reported injuries. It was unknown how the fire started.

Upon further investigation, it was found that paper dust had apparently caught fire and smoldered through the underside of the roof of the Marcal Paper Mills building in Elmwood Park.

Italian immigrant Nicholas Marcalus founded Marcal in North Jersey 80 years ago.

But his descendants filed for bankruptcy six years ago, listing debts of $156 million (versus $100 million in assets), and the company was seized by Highland Capital Management LP of Dallas.

Atlas’ companies do pulp and paper manufacturing, and are involved in various other businesses.


Every 200 years California suffers a storm of biblical proportions — this year’s rains are just a precursor
  The last freak rainstorm turned the Central Valley into a lake, and we’re due for another one.

by Rachel Becker Feb 21, 2017, 11:15am EST

A series of storms have inundated California over the past few weeks, and the latest deluge is currently swelling rivers and reservoirs that are already spilling over. Vast swathes of California continue to be at risk for flooding as the storm runoff makes its way through river systems, the National Weather Service warns. Across California, residents were evacuated when local rivers flooded, including a small Northern California town that experienced a levee breach Monday night.
“So it appears that California may be due for another episode soon.”

The severe flooding may feel like a whiplash development in a state that’s been locked in drought for five years — and in an “exceptional drought” for three of them. Still, California has seen worse: massive floods have swept through the state about every 200 years for the past 2,000 years or more, climate scientists Michael Dettinger and Lynn Ingram recount in a 2013 article.

The most recent was a series of storms that lasted for a near-biblical 43 days between 1861 and 1862, creating a vast lake where California’s Central Valley had been. Floodwaters drowned thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of cattle, and forced the state’s government to move from Sacramento to San Francisco.

More than 150 years have passed since California’s last, great flood — and a team of researchers with the US Geological Survey have predicted what kind of damage a similar flood would cause today. Their simulation, called the ARkStorm, anticipates that a stretch of the Central Valley 300 miles long by 20 miles wide would be underwater. Cities up and down the coast of California would flood. Winds would howl 60 to 125 miles per hour, and landslides would make roads impassable.

Although the simulation didn’t include a body count, Dettinger and Ingram predicted that thousands of people would probably die. And it could happen again any time: it’s been 150 years since the 1861–1862 floods, they wrote. “So it appears that California may be due for another episode soon.”

This winter’s heavy precipitation has already caused a slew of problems; California’s governor Jerry Brown called a state of emergency after December and January’s storms to ensure that 50 counties would be able to get funds to repair the damage. Last week, the Oroville Dam’s crumbling emergency spillway triggered the emergency evacuation of more than 180,000 people.

Now, the state’s Department of Water Resources is turning its attention to the Don Pedro Dam in Tuolumne County, California — about two hours due west of Yosemite National Park. The dam operators opened the spillway Monday afternoon, which will mean higher water levels in the river system for a while, says Jon Ericson with the California Department of Water Resources. People who live along the Tuolumne River are being encouraged to move to higher ground, the LA Times reported on Monday.

“We’re really going to be very vigilant,” Ericson told The Verge on Monday. “We always are, but especially the next 24 to 48 hours there’s going to be quite a bit of water that’s going to be coming through the system.”

Though the impact has been extensive, Marty Ralph, the director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the University of California, San Diego, doesn’t think that this latest storm is this century’s equivalent to the 1861–1862 floods. “They are the same type,” Ralph says. “But I don’t think that they’re the magnitude that that ARkStorm predicted.”
“It’s about the equivalent of 20 Mississippi Rivers’ worth of water.”

Both storms, Ralph says, are the result of an atmospheric river, first identified in 1998. An atmospheric river is a massive ribbon of water vapor that flows off the Pacific Ocean and combines with strong, low-altitude winds. They stretch about 250 to 375 miles across, but can reach from 1,000 to more than 2,000 miles in length. “It’s about the equivalent of 20 Mississippi Rivers’ worth of water, but it’s in the form of water vapor rather than liquid,” Ralph says. When it hits the coastal mountains, the stream of warm, wet air is forced upward, where it cools and condenses into massive rain clouds.

“It’s definitely a very unusually very wet year for us,” Ralph says, but he doesn’t think that it’s an ARkStorm type year. “Now that’s not to say that couldn’t happen, which would be highly tragic.” Infographic by NOAA

In a typical year, around nine atmospheric rivers shower California with precipitation. They’re a critical source of about a third to half of the annual water in a state where the summers are usually bone-dry. But they also frequently go hand in hand with devastating wind storms, which can cause billions of dollars of damage, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geosciences.

“When we get a sequence of them, or we get too many and the soils are real moist and the rivers are high and the reservoirs are full, then they can go from being largely beneficial — because we need water in the West — to hazards,” Ralph says.

That’s the situation we’re in now, Ralph says, with about 30 atmospheric rivers since October 1st — and it’s something we can expect to see more of. As global temperatures continue to climb, the air can hold more water vapor — which means calmer winds, but warmer and wetter atmospheric rivers, more often. And that means more flooding.

“This situation that we’re seeing with the pronounced drought punctuated by wet conditions that are producing a lot of runoff — that is exactly what we are seeing intensify in the historical record,” says Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor of Earth Sciences at Stanford University. “And it’s exactly what climate models project for the future.”

Climate change could exacerbate the dynamic as we struggle with an aging and already failing infrastructure. We can probably expect more, and worse catastrophes than Oroville’s crumbling spillway. That’s why Newsha Ajami, Stanford’s director of Urban Water Policy, says, “Coming up with new more innovative management and operational rules that reflect the 21st century climatic realities — I think that is really an important issue.”

The good news is that the weather seems to be calming down — for now. Over the past 48 hours, two to three inches of rain washed over the Sacramento valley and between five and eight inches fell in the Sierra Nevadas, Eric Kurth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told The Verge. At least a foot of snow fell at higher mountain elevations, and more is expected. The winds have calmed down today, but yesterday they howled at 199mph through California’s mountain peaks. Thursday should bring a brief dry spell, but more typical, cold winter weather will follow.

“The good part, though, is that the more precipitation that we get in the form of snow, the less is running off into streams and rivers and creeks, so it’s definitely much less of a flood issue,” Kurth says. Still, he adds, there could be some ongoing flooding in California’s Central Valley. “The ground is saturated, and creeks and rivers are high, so adding anything additional could always cause some problems.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A semi-trailer driver with Ames Construction of Burnsville was crushed to death in Minnetonka, MN when a large steel pipe rolled off a semitrailer after he unstrapped the load

MINNETONKA, Minn. -- A construction worker was killed Monday afternoon in Minnetonka when a large steel pipe rolled off a semitrailer, crushing the Missouri man.

According to the Minnesota State Patrol, the workman was helping to unload the pipes from the trailer when a pipe came lose shortly after 2:30 p.m.

The workman was pronounced dead at the scene, the southbound U.S. 169 ramp to Londonderry Road.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is working in the area to replace the Nine Mile Creek Bridge between Bren Road and Seventh Street.

The State Patrol identified the victim as David Earl Hyde, 38, of Fulton, Mo. KARE-TV reported that Hyde was the semi’s driver and that the pipe rolled off the trailer after he unstrapped the load.

Ames Construction of Burnsville is the contractor on the U.S. 169 project.

The fatality is under investigation by state workplace safety officials.

Ames Construction said the pipe that fell on the worker weighed 2,500 to 2,600 pounds.

Pipe falls off truck, kills worker along Highway 169

Highway 169 between Bren Road and 7th Street is closed for a 10-month project to replace the Nine Mile Creek bridge. MNDOT started the construction during the winter because it is easier to take out the bridge when the swamp is frozen.

During construction, Highway 169 will be reduced to only one lane southbound from Excelsior Boulevard to 7th Street and northbound from Highway 62 to Bren Road. The entrance ramp from westbound Interstate 394 to southbound Highway 169 will also be closed until October.

Unfinished mulch at C.S. Carey in Kansas City, Kansas caught fire at some point overnight, triggering a large, smoldering fire that has been difficult to put out.


Investigators are working to determine if spontaneous combustion started a massive fire in a huge pile of unfinished mulch at a Kansas City, Kansas mulch manufacturer early Monday morning.

The unfinished mulch at C.S. Carey near 65th Street and Kansas Avenue caught fire at some point overnight, triggering a large, smoldering fire that has been difficult to put out.

Fire crews are using a large ladder and hose to try to douse the flames. Large plumes of smoke continue to rise from the fire.

Workers on scene said the mulch can spontaneously combust if it gets a little wet. The moisture apparently starts a chemical reaction that can cause it to catch fire.

There is no threat to any buildings or people at this point.



Emergency crews battled a large fire for nearly five hours after a pile of mulch spontaneously combust early Monday morning.

The fire started about 2:45 a.m. at C. S. Carey, a land clearing, tree grinding and wholesale mulch business near 65th Street and Kansas Avenue.

Flames lit up the side of Kansas Avenue avenue at 65th Street for most of the morning as firefighters worked to contain the fire.

An employee of the business says the fire is mostly contained. He says no employees were hurt and no equipment was damaged.

The employee believes the fire was started by spontaneous combustion. This can happen when cold air enters a mulch pile and begins to warm. The pile holds more moisture than the air. Cold air can transfer large amounts of heat-laden water vapor inside mulch and compost piles, sparking a flame. Fire investigators have not confirmed the belief.

"It occurs overtime as the mulch is stockpiled, it usually takes 2 to 3 months before mulch can get to a point where it's going to get hot enough to catch on fire," The employee said.

Matt Stueck, the Vice President of Suburban Lawn and Garden says mulch has to get between 170 and 200 degrees to combust.

"You can feel that, feel how warm that is, that's hot. That's 120 degrees and that's very typical of what mulch can get like inside the pile," Stueck said.

He says when mulch piles reach higher than 25 feet tall, their internal temperatures can rise quickly, and at this point in the year, many businesses have more mulch than normal.

"This is busiest time of the year for all mulch producers because its the beginning of the mulch season for jobs," Stueck said.

And for homeowners wanting to buy mulch, he says this is not something to worry about.

"A mulch fire is scary for someone making mulch, but its not at all a threat for someone who has mulch at their home," Stueck said.

Stueck says the benefits of mulch outweigh any risks. he says just break up your old mulch before laying down a new layer in the Spring.

Authorities closed Kansas Avenue from 62nd Street to 65th Street while they battled the blaze. The street has reopened.

Fire officials say no homes were affected by the fire.


A Perfect Storm: Mulch Fire Dynamics and Prevention


A Perfect Storm: Mulch Fire Dynamics and Prevention
By Erika Jensen

An unusually large number of fires, occurring at commercial mulch and compost facilities over the past few years, have caused concern for the organics industry, as well as the communities affected by these fires.

About 75% of the reported fires to date were the result of spontaneous combustion. To better understand these events, we will first look at the biology and chemistry that leads to spontaneous combustion fires. Although much of this information is common knowledge within the industry, we’ll use an understanding of the causes to frame a discussion on how to prevent such fires and avoid backlash from local residents and government officials.
Composting Dynamics and Risk Factors

Spontaneous combustion fires begin with pile heating caused by microbial activity. Heat is produced as microbes decompose the organic materials, made possible by the presence of moisture. When the pile size is too large, the pile cannot lose heat as fast as it is generated, and the temperature rises. If the decomposition continues under the right conditions, the pile can continue to heat to a dangerous level.

At around 180° F, microbial activity shuts down and direct chemical reactions (abiotic) processes take over. Pyrolysis is one such process, and can be defined as the decomposition of organic materials through the action of heat, which occurs in the absence of oxygen. The gasses and compounds that result from the process of pyrolysis are highly combustible, and when oxygen is introduced they can burst into flames. Smoldering can also occur in the absence of oxygen.

“During pyrolysis, the traditional “fire triangle” that we’ve all been taught about is changed somewhat. Usually we think about the fire triangle involving fuel, oxygen, and heat. But when pyrolysis comes into play, a smoldering fire can occur without oxygen,” said Robert Rynk, of the State University of New York at Cobleskill (SUNY Cobleskill).

Risk factors for spontaneous combustion fires include piles that are over 20 feet tall, piles that are moderately dry, in the range of 20 to 40 percent moisture (or dry with some wet spots), and static piles that may sit for a month or more without being turned. These values are general estimates and vary based on weather conditions and pile composition. For example, oils and resins in the feedstock materials may also play a role, as some materials are more prone to combustion because they have a lower combustion temperature. However, this is a minor consideration compared to the other risk factors of pile size, moisture level, and stasis (no turning, no movement).

Methods of Prevention 

Fortunately, the prevention of mulch fires is simpler than understanding exactly how they occur. Best management practices, such as careful monitoring of temperature and moisture; noticing and correlating weather events; restricting pile size; maintaining moisture levels; and turning piles to release heat are critical to the prevention of combustion fires in organic material piles. According to John Ferguson of Nature’s Way Resources, careful monitoring of pile temperatures is part of his daily work, using a soil (temperature) probe to check for hot spots (A). “My workers monitor the temperature of the mulch piles at least twice a week, and log-in the information weekly. 

If it looks like we’ve got excessive heat building up, we flood the mulch pile first, then turn it or spread it out to release the heat,” Ferguson said. Checking for signs of a smoldering pile is also part of the monitoring. He added, that keeping the pile at a consistent moisture level of 40-60 percent is important for fire prevention, and also happens to be about the right moisture level for composting. Water works as a “governor” and has an important role in moderating temperature and heat exchange within a mulch pile. “You don’t get fires if you keep the mulch at around 50 percent moisture,” said Ferguson. 

Pile Size Restricting pile size is an important part of fire prevention. Some facility owners, like John Ferguson, compost their mulch before offering it for sale. During this process, small piles will lose heat too fast for composting to initiate. When composting mulch, the ideal pile height is in the range of 3-10 feet tall. 

According to Jean Bonhotal, Director of the Cornell Waste Management Institute, piles over 10-12 feet in height are not recommended, due to the risk of overheating and spontaneous combustion. Piles should be long and narrow, no more than 12-15 feet wide. Piles that are over 20 feet tall have a tendency to overheat and sometimes spontaneously combust. In addition to smaller pile size, it’s prudent to allow sufficient space between the piles for access. John Ferguson allows 8-10 feet between his piles, which is enough space for equipment to access the area, including fire trucks if needed. 

Larger mulch piles, in particular, benefit from turning because it lowers the pile temperature and prevents overheating. “Big piles are fine, as long as they don’t sit idle for a long time. There are a lot of factors that contribute to spontaneous combustion fires, but time is an important one. If you wait long enough, you’ll probably have a fire. One month seems to be a typical period for fires to show themselves in large static piles,” said Bob Rynk. 


Water is a key component in both mulch and compost production, and it works in a number of different ways. Moisture contributes to pile heating by stimulating microbial activity. However, it can also absorb large amounts of heat, as well as cool the pile through evaporation. In this way it acts as a “governor”. Providing enough water is a big job. John Ferguson uses a retention pond to supply water to his mulch piles, and the pond also serves as a water source for emergencies. 

Additionally, he accepts liquid byproducts from various businesses, such as cheese plants. He does this by offering businesses a lower rate for disposal of their liquid waste, which is then sprayed directly onto his mulch piles. Mark Mills, of Ace Supply/Precision Sharpening, uses a water wagon with a 2,500 gallon tank to pump water onto his mulch piles. He also sprays the mulch with water as he is stacking the material. He makes an effort to reclaim the water after it drains out of the piles by capturing it in a pit and then pumping it back onto the piles. He does not turn the piles, instead relying on water to keep the piles from getting too hot. 

While it is important to maintain about 50% moisture content within a pile, Ferguson warns that a combination (very wet/very dry) pile can also be a fire hazard. “When we had mulch fires, every time it was connected with a particular weather event. Here in the Houston area it’s not uncommon to get 3-6 inches of rain from a storm. The mulch materials that were soaked with rainwater swell and seal off the top of the pile. 

Then if we get dry, gusty winds, one end of the pile can dry out while the other side stays wet, the wind gusts increase the air pressure inside the pile. From chemistry and physics, we know that as the pressure increases so does the internal temperature, which can then provide the impetus to initiate the chemical processes that lead to spontaneous combustion.” 

Air Flow

Oxygen is a strong driver of microbial activity. However, trying to eliminate the air in a pile by compacting it with machinery is not a means of prevention. “Driving on piles is not a good idea,” said Mark Mills. “It really doesn’t help anything. It makes things worse.”

This is due to a number of different factors. For example, compacted piles are denser and have a greater tendency to overheat, because the large mass retains heat and reduces vertical airflows. Also, not all of the processes that lead to spontaneous combustion, such as pyrolysis, are dependent on oxygen.

In a survey conducted by Robert Rynk of SUNY Cobleskill and Richard Buggeln, University of Tennesee, 70% of the facilities experiencing spontaneous combustion report that they intentionally compact the piles by driving over them with a wheel loader or bulldozer.
Fighting Fires

David Banwarth is a fire protection engineer, whose interest in mulch fires is primarily connected to community-wide planning for fire safety. Banwarth encourages commercial mulch facilities to do their planning ahead of time, because mulch fires are very common. Pre-planning with the fire department is essential.

There are a number of different strategies to effectively manage fires before they get out of control. A combination of applying water to the pile surface, along with opening up the pile, is one effective option for putting out the fire. In the Rynk and Buggeln survey, respondents endorsed fighting a spontaneous combustion fire with the assistance of a wheel loader, excavator, or bulldozer, in addition to a fire hose.

According to John Ferguson, it’s important to wet the surface material before you open up the pile, since the introduction of fresh oxygen can cause the fire to flare up and spread along the surface. Additionally, Ferguson keeps large amounts of soil and dirt and other materials that could be applied to smother a fire.

Robert Rynk makes the point that smart use of water resources is the best way to get the fire under control.

“Large amounts of water are ineffective and unnecessary to fight a mulch or compost fire. Whatever water that is applied should be applied selectively and in concentrated locations. Fire departments tend to make the mistake of automatically turning on the hoses and flooding the piles with water. It is their instinct to do so. This approach is not only a waste of water, but also does nothing to extinguish the fire. Liberally spraying water does help to keep the fire from spreading to adjacent piles, equipment and buildings. However, it should be applied strategically and not to soak the piles, especially those on fire. Fire suppressing chemicals such as foam can be effective,” said Rynk.
Crisis Communications

In addition to putting out the actual physical fire, mulch producers may have to contend with an emotional firestorm of community-wide panic over a fire incident. Search the internet for “mulch fires” and you invariably come up with images of huge fires, with flames shooting high into the air. Which is why such fires always make the headlines. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to interview a mulch facility owner while a fire is in progress, which means they don’t necessarily get a fair representation in the media.

Preplanning for crisis communications is essential. Who needs to know about the fire? Key contacts could include your employees, homeowners in the immediate area, media contacts, fire/police departments, and of course your customers. Press releases to the media can be largely written ahead of time and revised as necessary during the event. Social media is a powerful tool that you can use to tell your story directly to the public. You might consider posting your own photos on a Facebook page, along with essential information about the crisis as it unfolds. If you don’t have a Facebook page, consider ahead of time, how fast you can get information onto to the home page of your company website.
Community-wide Impact

As a fire protection engineer, David Banwarth’s focus is to look at the impact on the community. In addition to careful prevention efforts, facilities should plan for an adequate and reliable water supply.

“Ideally, this should be a public water supply or a large supply of stored water, though the costs associated with this may be prohibitive,” said Banwarth.

According to Banwarth, mulch facilities are best located in an industrial park setting, where there is access to a public water supply; road access for emergency vehicles; and limited exposure to homes and schools. In an industrial park setting, a typical mulch fire may be extinguished within hours; in a rural setting it may take several days and many more resources, in terms of personnel and emergency response vehicles. The longer time associated with a non-industrial setting is due to several factors: longer response times due to distances to rural areas; typically more difficult access; lengthy delays in establishing an adequate and continuous water supply; and advanced fire growth prior to extinguishment activities.

Banwarth points out that mulch fires can have a huge impact on the community at large:

“More developed and challenging mulch fires can severely strain or consume the fire and medical response resources of a community. The same firefighters, emergency medical responders and apparatus that would be available for other emergencies may be putting out a mulch fire. Engine companies or medic units may have to respond from more distant locations to handle regular calls for service. The adverse impact on community emergency services can be greatly reduced by locating commercial mulch manufacturing facilities in locations that best provide an ability to quickly respond and extinguish incipient fires."

In conclusion, understanding the chemical processes by which mulch piles ignite, brings a more informed understanding of how to effectively prevent fires. By thinking through a strategy for putting out fires, as well as managing communications during an emergency, mulch and compost producers can be prepared for the likely scenario of a fire at some point.