Toxic fumes released from 190K charred tires in Alton

Toxic fumes released from 190K charred tires in Alton

12 April 2011

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USA — Firefighters from 19 different agencies battled a large grass fire that burned down one structure, charred more than 190,000 tires and prompted the evacuation of several residents in a nearby neighborhood.

And the smoke from the tires had state environmental officials on the lookout for threats to residents’ health.

Alton firefighters requested assistance from neighboring fire departments — including the cities of McAllen, Peñitas, Pharr, Weslaco and Mission — to battle the blaze, which sparked shortly before noon near Mile 8 1/2 North and Moorefield Road, according to fire officials on the scene Monday afternoon.

There were no reports of injuries, but black smoke could be seen from up to 10 miles away in northeast McAllen.

A five-acre grass fire ignited a deposit of about 190,000 tires — officials could not determine whether it was a warehouse, landfill or illegal dump site — that eventually spread to a nearby neighborhood.

The blaze spread to one home after some palm trees near the residence caught fire, Alton police Chief Enrique Sotelo said. Other reports confirmed that a structure was burned, but not a home specifically.

Firefighters, however, quickly established fire breaks that largely contained the inferno, said Oscar Montoya, Hidalgo County emergency management coordinator.

“We had to evacuate some people from houses around the area to make sure they are safe from the smoke and in case the fire travels,” Montoya said.

High winds, low humidity and a lack of rain fueled the raging flames that produced a potentially harmful smoke.

Fumes emitted from burning tires are packed with many toxic chemicals that can pose a health hazard to people susceptible to respiratory disease, said Andrea Morrow, spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The commission was monitoring particulate matter — or small particles in the air, such as dust, smoke and ash — to measure the pollution risks associated with the burning tires, Morrow said.

“It’s smaller than you can see, but it can be harmful, particularly, to people who are susceptible,” Morrow said about particulate matter. “We are conducting air sampling. Upwind there’s no impact and downwind we’re finding levels that are two to three times higher than normal, which is to be expected in a fire of this kind.”


Emergency responders battled a second blaze about 2:20 p.m. near Tom Gill Road and Mile 3 1/2 — a couple of miles south of the first fire.

The climate conditions are ripe for blazes, Montoya said. A burn ban has been in place since last year, he added.

“It’s probably going to be this way till June,” Montoya said. “That’s why we’re asking everyone to keep their grasses cut.

“Right now there’s no humidity,” he said. “It’s super hot and fires can be sparked by traveling vehicles.”

The cause of both blazes remained undetermined, but Montoya said at least six people had been cited for illegally burning trash near the area before the blaze sparked.

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