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Derecho debris mulch pile still smoldering more than a week after catching fire, crews work to prevent future problems

Published: Mar. 26, 2021 at 10:39 PM CDT
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HIAWATHA, Iowa (KCRG) -More than a week after catching fire, a huge pile of mulch is still smoldering in Hiawatha. The pile is made up of debris from the August derecho, and it’s one of several across Linn County.

Jeanne and Doug Joens live across the road from the pile, and say it’s been the talk of the neighborhood.

“It’s a big pile. We call it Mulch Mountain,” says Doug Joens, “We’ve never seen any flames, but the smoldering some days is pretty bad, I mean you can smell it for half a mile around.”

Hiawatha Fire Chief Mike Nesslage says crews responded to a call about the pile March 17th. He says it isn’t uncommon for big mulch piles like this one to spontaneously combust and catch fire.

”It was a very deep-seated fire, and it was a fire we weren’t going to be able to put out with the resources we had,” says Nesslage. “They immediately that very day moved excavators and bulldozers out there and began tearing the piles apart, and that day fire units wetted it down.”

He says both the Department of Iowa Public Heath Air Quality and the DNR are monitoring the situation.

Nearly 10 days later, the pile is still smoldering.

Justin Holland is a project manager with Boomerang Corp., the company working on the mulch pile in Hiawatha. Holland says Boomerang Corp. is also handling several other similar projects across Linn County, and that they were prepared for a situation like this.

“So the fire will basically combust from kind of the middle, and it’ll work it’s way out. So we bring excavators and equipment and we try to isolate the hot spots, so it just burns the area that it’s in. And then we’re adding water...to put the fire in the hot spots out.”

He says the piles are under control, and that crews are keeping an eye on it.

Holland says while there’s no telling exactly how long it will take to put out the smoldering that’s left, crews are working to break up all the mulch piles to help prevent future fires.

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