Midway tire fire, feared to burn for weeks, extinguished in one day by EPA

Posted at 10:15 PM, Mar 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-22 00:15:20-04

A stubborn fire burning in Midway in a 300-yard-long, 6-foot-wide, 6-foot-tall fence made of baled used tires was extinguished Friday by workers with the Environmental Protection Agency.  Success in putting out the fire comes days or weeks before even the most optimistic of time frames.  "I’m shocked," said Jim Reid, Executive Director of the El Paso County Department of Public Works.  "I have the ‘wow’ factor on this one."

El Paso County officials requested assistance from the EPA in managing the fire, burning on private property on Prairie Fire Point in Midway since it was ignited during the Carson Midway Fire on March 16.  The site was turned over to the EPA late Monday night and the Federal firefighting resources arrived in earnest Wednesday morning.  By sunset Wednesday, the fire was effectively snuffed out.  "The fire is pretty much out.  There’s some warm spots here and there," said EPA on-scene coordinator Duane Newell.

"They were able to bring in a lot of heavy equipment and a lot of water, which we did not have the resources for," Reid said.  "They really came in and they knocked it out and they did a phenomenal job."

The fence was built by the property owner in the early 1990s, Reid said, before state restrictions on the use of old tires.  Reid says each bale was comprised of dozens of tires compacted into a cube, which he says the owner claims he bought for $11 each.  "It makes for a real good fence, just not in this situation," Reid said.  Reid says the property owner has been fully cooperative in the firefighting effort.

Toxic smoke from the fire forced the closure of a nearby elementary school on Tuesday.  Classes resumed Wednesday.  Three nearby homes that were evacuated due to the toxic smoke will be able to be reoccupied Thursday, Reid said.  Newell says ground contamination from the fire appears to be minimal.  "There was no oil produced when the tires burned," Newell said.  "We didn’t have any runoff as well, and the little bit of runoff that we did have was inconsequential, just a little bit here and there."