By John Anderson
Drivers on Millbury St. and even the Pike saw plumes of smoke and steam coming from the leaf pile at the DPW this morning. A suppression effort that dragged well into the afternoon began last Wednesday when the Fire Department responded to and extinguished a similar fire.
Fire Chief Stephen Coleman informed Auburn Mass Daily, “The DPW has been moving the pile around with the excavator because it was believed that the fire was burning deep in the bottom of the pile. It was monitored over the weekend and the pile was last dug into yesterday and no signs of smoke or fire were found.”
“At approximately 5:30 a.m. this morning, a passerby on Millbury St. reported seeing smoke coming from the pile. When fire crews arrived they found the same and with the assistance of the DPW began moving the pile with a loader. Once the pile was dug into, flames could be seen coming from the center of the pile, 5 or 6 feet high.”
Chief Coleman commented on the cause and origin, “Leaves or mulch stored in huge piles, 10 to 20 feet deep, are known to build up enough heat from internal decomposition to start a fire. Spontaneous combustion occurs when a substance generates enough heat to ignite without an outside source.”
Assistant DPW Director and Auburn Fire Captain Jeff Mitchell said a perfect compost pile has a core temperature of 160-180 F˚, and this indicates good decomposition of the organic materials. He added that the pile must also be kept moist which was not the case this year.
DPW Director Bill Coyle said Auburn only received half the normal rainfall, 8” instead of 16” during the summer, mid-June to mid-September. The core of the pile is largely grass that has been there since the early summer.
When asked about the large piles of yard waste, Coyle said Allied Waste, the town’s contractor, dumps all the yard waste at the DPW because of the Asian Long-horned Beetle (ALB) quarantine. Although they pay a $6,000 fee for this privilege, the resulting piles are a bit much for the town to handle. On the other hand, this is the third year of using the DPW site, and this is the first year to have a fire issue.
Coyle said he usually hires a contractor to come in and grind up and remove the yard waste (an ALB requirement) in March or April when most of the snow is gone and the site is piled with Christmas trees.
Prior to the ALB quarantine, the town was poised to compost yard waste at the capped landfill, but this is now off limits, as is the Allied Waste site on Hardscrabble Rd.
Crews cleared the scene about 3:30pm yesterday, and the Chief said the fire department and the DPW would continue to monitor things. The leaf pile should be resuming normal operations today.