From: Ryan Nakashima, Associated Press
Published July 21, 2005 12:00 AM

Official Says Tire Plant Set Ablaze was Accident Waiting to Happen

MILWAUKEE — As a huge mound of tires burned for a second day at a southeastern Wisconsin recycling plant, health officials warned nearby residents Wednesday to stay indoors with windows closed to avoid billowing black smoke.

Authorities, meanwhile, said the rural facility 50 miles west of Milwaukee, with its hundreds of thousands of tires, had been seen as a hazard for nearly a decade but the state was reluctant to shut it down because it was one of the few tire processors left.

The old tires at Watertown Tire Recyclers LLC were home to breeding mosquitoes, and just one of its mounds of partly recycled rubber chips had grown to 25 feet high and 100 feet long, said Dodge County zoning administrator Fred Lueck.

An inferno erupted Tuesday morning as a state Department of Natural Resources staff member visited to check on progress toward reducing the stockpile.

The cause of the fire has not been determined, but investigators were focusing on one chip pile that a worker had been shoveling with equipment, said Sheriff's Chief Deputy Blaine Lauersdorf.


About 120 firefighters from 44 departments fought the blaze, with about 30 water trucks making round trips to the city two miles away. The fire was expected to burn several days.

The pile had grown to an estimated 400,000 to a million tires, far more than the 200,000 the state authorized.

In April, Dodge County ruled that plant owner Thomas Springer was in violation of a land-use permit because trucks full of tires were parked in a buffer zone and not meant for storage. It ordered him to correct the problems and get rid of the chip piles.

Springer's lawyer, Vicki Zick, said a malfunctioning tire-shredding machine installed in 2004 was causing tires to pile up faster than shredded bits could be shipped out.

The plant grinds tires into chips and processes them into materials for other uses, such as road-paving or fuel.

The state was left with only a few tire recyclers after the Legislature stopped funding in 1997 for a program that subsidized the process, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Source: Associated Press

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