Rapidly spreading fire sends smoke billowing from recycle facility

ST. GEORGE — Multiple fire trucks lined the street as firefighters battled a blaze for hours after a fire began in a large debris pile Wednesday.

Officials say a fire that burned for hours at the Rocky Mountain Recycling facility was likely caused by improperly discarded batteries in a debris pile, St. George, Utah, June 6, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Shortly before 9 a.m., firefighters and emergency responders were dispatched to a fire reported at Rocky Mountain Recycling at 838 N 1080 East.

Employees unsuccessfully attempted to extinguish the blaze prior to the fire department’s arrival, St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said.

The fire started in the “unders” pile and spread to the high-grade pile near the north end of the facility that takes in about 800 tons a month, Thomas Jongert, Rocky Mountain Recycling’s director of plant operations, said.

Fire crews began battling the blaze after it had already spread to several dumpsters located under large equipment and threatened several structures nearby.

Heavy smoke blankets area during a fire at the Rocky Mountain Recycling facility, St. George, Utah, June 6, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Firefighters fought to prevent the blaze from spreading to surrounding debris and bales stacked throughout the facility.

After nearly three hours, the fire was contained and crews remained remained on scene to extinguish embers and ensure the fire was completely out and the building  secured.

Stoker said firefighters will likely be checking the scene until Thursday morning to prevent rekindling due to the massive amount of material that fuels a fire.

No injuries were reported.

From the onset, firefighting efforts were focused on saving the equipment located just above the burning debris, Stoker said. As a result, there was only heat damage rather than the extensive damage that would have occurred if the equipment had caught fire.

Stoker said the fire was likely caused by batteries being disposed of in the recycle bins transported to the facility but added that the findings are preliminary, as the investigation is ongoing.

Smoke can be seen for miles from a fire at the Rocky Mountain Recycling facility, St. George, Utah, June 6, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

This wasn’t the first fire caused by improper disposal of batteries at the facility, he said.

As recently as last week, there were several smaller fires that the company’s workers were able to extinguish.

Wednesday’s fire spread quickly, and despite employees’ efforts to extinguish the blaze, they realized they needed help and called 911, Jongert said.

“We used about 20 fire extinguishers, but that fire spread so quickly with the dry conditions, heat and no rain,” he said. “It was crazy.”

The fire started in debris that was located under the equipment, Stoker said, and the rapid spreading made it virtually impossible for employees to extinguish the blaze using extinguishers.

However, their efforts helped keep the fire from spreading, he said, adding that the recycle plant “did a fantastic job trying to extinguish it, and keep it in check.”

The facility’s area managers obtained an accounting of all employees who were safely evacuated prior to the fire department’s arrival.

“I accounted for everybody and they are perfectly safe,” Jongert said. “That’s the first thing I did.”

The facility does a lot of recycling for the county, Stoker said, and improper battery disposal creates a fire hazard, adding that the department has responded to four or five battery-related fires recently.

St. George Fire Department responded with two fire engines, a ladder truck and a squad truck, while the St. George Police Department cordoned off the area.

Firefighting efforts required more than 1,500 gallons of water released every minute from two fire hydrants, amounting to more then 90,000 gallons an hour, Stoker said.

Proper battery disposal

Car batteries can be disposed of at a designated location at the Washington County Solid Waste landfill at 325 N. Landfill Road in Washington City.

Rechargeable batteries and cell phones can be disposed of in a drop box located in the landfill’s scale house. They are sent to a nonprofit organization that recycles the material.

Alkaline batteries can be dropped off at Hurst Ace Hardware, Batteries Plus, ReStore and Radio Shack in St. George.

This report is based on statements from police or other emergency responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.

St. George News reporter Mikayla Shoup contributed to this report.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.  

Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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