‘Can’t breathe’: Flagler county mulch fire continues to burn two months later, bringing smoke to homes

30 January 2023

Published by: https://www.wesh.com

USA – Some residents in Flagler County are dealing with smoky backyards, still feeling the impact of a mulch fire that broke out in November 2022.

County and state officials were up against a massive fire that started on Nov. 26, 2022, at 295 County Road 200 in Bunnell near Favoretta. The property belongs to Arrow Materials & Excavating, a company that collects brush to convert into mulch.

Officials say a day after the fire broke out, there was a re-flare that produced 30-foot flames and smoke.

“We saw the flames from our front porch and we literally thought we were packing up and running,” resident Rob Rodriguez said.

At the time, residents were warned it could burn for days, but blowing smoke still fills the air in January.

Officials say when the fire first started, about four and a half acres were in flames, but as of Sunday, about a quarter of an acre is still burning.

“Every day, depending on what way the wind’s blowing, one neighbor is getting worse than the other,” resident Carrie Harkins said. “It burns your eyes, it fills up your house, and not to mention, you’re thinking about all your animals that are outside because we’re an agriculture here.”

“We would have the windows open and wake up in the middle of the night thinking our house is on fire because it’s filled with smoke,” Rodriguez said. “You can’t breathe, you can’t sleep.”

“This is the country out here. We have a lot of sandhill cranes protected. I have bald eagles flying over my house protected. They’re not going to be able to stay here,” a resident named Leo said.

One couple showed WESH 2 how the smoky air impacts their home.

“We have to wipe our tables every day. You can see in our pool it would fill up with soot – like oily soot,” resident Jodi Ross said. “This is the most beautiful time in Florida, and we can’t even sit outside half the time.”

“You’re coughing in the morning when you get up. It’s unbearable,” resident Joe Ross said.

WESH 2 reached out to the owner of Arrow Materials & Excavating but has not heard back yet.

“One thing about mulch fires is that they’re notorious for spontaneously combusting. It’s just part of the natural process,” Flagler County Fire & Rescue Fire Chief Michael Tucker said. “These facilities typically have them set up in a manner that when a fire starts, they can break piles apart fast. In this situation, it just got ahead of the property owner.”

Tucker said the burning is close to an end, but the cooler temperatures cause a lot more smoke.

When asked about a timeline on when things will clear up, Tucker said, “This week, we will be embarking upon a new plan to try to finish up that pile off and to get some more water in there, and it’s going to be a very tedious process for us to do that, but hopefully, the homeowners in the area will begin to see a change soon.”

Tucker said there were a lot of materials on the property, which can fuel a fire.

Records show in 2020, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a consent of order to the company for a reason similar to it.

WESH 2 is waiting to hear back from the DEP and Florida Forest Service for comment.

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