FIREFIGHTERS BATTLE TIRE FIRE
By Jane Hill
SALTILLO - As the sun began to set on Day Two of the fire at Mac's Tire Recycling Center off Highway 145 the dozens of volunteer fire fighters present admitted to being tired.
Volunteers from Lee and many surrounding counties had been battling the blaze at the tire chipping facility since 1 a.m. Saturday and no clear end was in sight late Sunday afternoon.
"We could be out here for another six to eight hours, we could be out here for days," said Ken Stanford, a volunteer fire fighter for the city of Saltillo.
The fire apparently started around midnight Friday. Volunteers from at least 12 different fire departments, some as far away as Alcorn County, responded to fight the fire, which was believed extinguished at about 8 p.m. Saturday.
But the call went out again Sunday morning at about 10:30. The blaze had apparently spread underground in the on site tire landfill and had sprung up in a different part of the recycling facility. Again volunteers from a multi-county region responded to continually fill their their tankers and empty their load into a communal "pool" from which the water could be jetted onto the hottest spots in the tire landfill.
Backhoes and bulldozers crawling across the landfill site covered as wide an area of the burning tires as possible with dirt.
Stanford said the nature of the material burning was the major problem. Once rubber is hot enough to burn, it can smolder like coals for days, even weeks, without losing its potential to burst into flames again.
Burying all the tire remnants on site beneath a heavy layer of dirt and then smothering it with water was the only method by which emergency officials hoped to contain and eventually extinguish the fire, Stanford said.
"There is tire rubber buried 20 feet deep in there," he said. "We can only hope to smother it out. Even then it will probably smolder for two or three months underground."
It is estimated more than 6 million waste tires were on site at the recycling facility. The facility, started by the McPherson family in 1990, chips waste tires so they can be properly disposed of. The chipped tires are sold to a company in Vicksburg which freezes, powderizes and recovers the rubber from the waste tires to be reused in other products.
As the fire fighting efforts continued well into the second day, concerns grew about the demands the pumper trucks were placing on the city's well pumps, though city residents had not yet experienced a loss of water pressure. Also, several firefighters suffered from nausea caused by the tire smoke, though no one was seriously injured or required prolonged medical attention. A paramedic team and ambulance from the North Mississippi Medical Center was on site in the event a firefighter was overcome or injured.
Roseanne McPherson, one of the owners of the business, expressed her gratitude to the men and women volunteers who had given so much of themselves to fighting the blaze. The McPhersons hired a catering truck to be on site to provide volunteers with hot food and hot coffee as temperatures dropped Sunday evening.
"It is unreal how hard these people have been working," McPherson said. "I bet we have 12 different fire departments out here. There is nothing in this world better than volunteers."
The exact cause of the fire, which started on the outskirts of the landfill, is not known, but few of those questioned Sunday doubted that it had been deliberately set.
Saltillo Mayor W.K. Webb said there would be an investigation into the cause of the fire. Stanford said that investigation would be hampered by the fact that the place where the fire started had to be buried under layers of dirt and water.