California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Solid Waste Facilities, Sites and Operations

Fires at Solid Waste Facilities

Best Management Practices | Public Meetings | Stakeholder Input | More Information

Solid waste contains plant material, wood, paper, compostable materials and other materials that are flammable. Fires have occurred in buried waste at landfills, in waste tire storage areas, in compost piles and in surface piles of waste material and feedstock at solid waste facilities.

On January 11, 2003, a fire started in wood and other waste material in Northwestern Fresno County at the Archie Crippen Site. The fire was a subject of a 2003 audit by the Bureau of State Audits. The debris pile was estimated to be 40 feet tall and amounted to 100,000 cubic yards. It burned for 4 weeks, and cost $6 million dollars to extinguish and then clean up the site.

CalRecycle staff profiled, in a draft discussion paper, the occurrence of 12 fires involving 7 compost piles, 1 self-haul waste pile at a transfer station, 1 alternative daily cover (ADC) pile at a landfill, and 3 construction and demolition debris feedstock (aka C&D) piles. Inspection reports, special occurrence logs and news reports indicate that numerous but smaller solid waste fires have occurred at solid waste facilities and operations.

CalRecycle wished to provide an opportunity for open dialog, information sharing, and the generation of ideas for and by stakeholders on this topic. CalRecycle organized four public meetings with the cooperation of the State Fire Marshal.

Public Meetings

CalRecycle held a public workshop on March 29, 2005, in Sacramento. Three regional meetings were held during November 2005 to promote systematic coordination between local enforcement agencies (LEAs), operators and fire service personnel. Implementing recommendations from the March 29th workshop, these coordination meetings considered regional fixes to solid waste fire prevention and suppression as well as promoted cooperative efforts among stakeholders at the local level on this burning issue.

Stakeholder Input

Best Management Practices (BMP)

For solid waste fires, BMPs are broadly defined as valued and matchless ideas, procedures or strategies that can prevent fires from happening or effectively suppress those solid waste fires which do occur. They can be classified as prevention BMPs and suppression BMPs. They can be simple operational procedures or found in detailed and legally binding permit conditions. The BMPs listed have been selected from comments received at the public workshops, found in published material and received via phone or email.

November 2005 Coordination Meetings

March 29, 2005 Workshop

More Information

  • Fires at Composting Facilities, July-August 2007 (Presentation | Video): Video and presentation from the State minimum standards training offered to local enforcement agencies, solid waste facility operators and CalRecycle staff.
  • Pile Fire Discussion Paper, December 2004: Prepared to promote discussion on the topic of fires at solid waste facilities. Based upon inspection report information, news reports, and personal communications from LEAs, CalRecycle staff and others.
  • Pile Fires: A U.S. Composting Council presentation that includes information on the fire triangle, causes of fires, fire prevention, sources of heat and fuel and, how to extinguish pile fires.
  • Solid Waste Pile Fires, August 2004: All-LEA memorandum
  • Waste Tire Fires: With more than 30 million tires generated yearly in California and an estimated 15 million stockpiled--legally and illegally--around the state, the potential for a major tire fire is a constant threat.
  • Landfill Fires Guidance Document: Waste buried at landfills can oxidize and burn underground. The fire can reach the surface. Preventing and suppressing fires in buried waste is strategically different from fires in waste above ground.
Last updated: August 28, 2013
Fires at Solid Waste Facilities http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/SWFacilities/Fires/
Todd Thalhamer: Todd.Thalhamer@calrecycle.ca.gov (916) 341-6356