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. About half the tires are reused, recycled, or used as fuel--the rest are taken to landfills or are illegally dumped.
Although permitted tire sites are required to maintain water supplies, firefighting equipment, and fire lanes, as well as limit the size of their tire piles, tire fires can still occur. Illegal dumping sites are an even bigger problem, since they don’t comply with State regulations and, by their nature, are not monitored.
As seen in major fires at Tracy (1998) and https://www2.calrecycle.ca.gov/Docs/103865 (1996), in which as many as 8.5 million tires went up in smoke, tire fires can have far-reaching effects on public safety and the environment, including contamination of surface water, groundwater, air, and soil. Additionally, there are concerns for the health of employees exposed to open tire burning. Tire fires also can require up to 100 gallons of water per tire to suppress, which creates additional environmental problems. Often the best course of action for firefighters, as in Tracy, is to let the fire burn itself out, which can take months.
CalRecycle is actively working to eliminate large, illegal tire piles to reduce the fire potential, but until uses can be found for the large number of tires generated, the problem will persist.
For general information on tire fires and environmental remediation of former tire sites please contact Todd Thalhamer.