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A county-level agency ordered Clover Flat Landfill last week to take corrective measures after the latest in a string of fires at the Upvalley facility.

In a Notice of Violation issued Aug. 8, the Napa County Local Enforcement Agency (LEA) that oversees the landfill south of Calistoga ordered the facility to stop processing green waste until it hires a full-time site operations manager, provides adequate water for fire suppression, and takes other steps to minimize the risk of fire.

According to Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann, there have been 13 fires at the landfill since July 2013, the most significant occurring on Sept. 1, 2017, and Aug. 6, 2018.

Last week’s fire, the third this summer, burned a significant portion of the landfill, and firefighters were “very fortunate” to be able to prevent it from spreading outside the landfill, Biermann told the Upper Valley Waste Management Agency (UVA) on Monday.

“With the wind that was blowing, and with the drawdown of resources that we had with the other fires going on, it posed a serious risk,” Biermann said. “If that fire had gotten established outside the landfill, we would have had our hands full to try to keep it from becoming a major blaze.”

“We can’t have another fire there,” he added. “This is not a common occurrence at other landfills, for whatever reason.”

After last September’s fire, the county fire marshal told the landfill to provide an on-site water source and a four-inch water line to transport water to fire engines, and to create smaller and more widely separated piles of green waste. Fires can originate in green waste from high temperatures and spontaneous combustion.

The landfill has done a better job managing the piles, but there was still no on-site water available when the Aug. 6 fire broke out, Biermann said.

Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning, a member of the UVA, said the fire “sent people into a tizzy” in Calistoga, and he questioned whether the landfill’s management felt an adequate sense of urgency to reduce the risk of fires.

Napa County Planning Director David Morrison, whose department operates the LEA that oversees the landfill, said the concerns that arose from the September fire were superseded by the massive wildfires that started the next month.

“We have tried to work cooperatively with the facility and have made numerous requests and direction since June of this year,” he told the UVA. “Just speaking for myself – not speaking for the county, but speaking for our department – our patience is growing thin.”

“Until there is an established pattern of compliance that matches the pattern of fires that we’ve seen in the last five years, we will continue to aggressively pursue this enforcement action,” Morrison said.

The landfill is taking immediate steps to comply with the 11 corrective actions contained in the Notice of Violation, including hiring a full-time spotter to monitor dumping and implementing a 24-hour-a-day fire watch, said Bryce Howard, general manager of the landfill.

“We’re using all the resources we have available to us,” Howard said. “We’re taking it as seriously as we can.”

All of the more than 7,000 cubic yards of green waste at the landfill will have been buried or removed by Friday, he said. Crews will now use soil rather than green waste to cover garbage on a daily basis.

The landfill has also completed a perimeter road and is interviewing candidates for a full-time operations manager. The landfill is also drilling a new well, installing a 12,000-gallon water tank, and working on plans to repair and refill a 55,000-gallon tank that was out of commission during the Aug. 6 fire, Howard said.

Ever since a fire broke out on July 24, landfill staff have been monitoring green waste piles and turning them over whenever their temperature reaches 160 degrees, Howard added.

Green waste has built up at Clover Flat partly because there are fewer biomass plants that accept it, he said.

“We’re going to have to find markets for it,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

The cause of the Aug. 6 fire has not been determined, but it appears that it started in the garbage portion of the landfill, not in the green waste. Howard said the landfill might have received a “hot load” of smoldering garbage that became fully engulfed after the landfill shut down for the day.

“We need to make sure that we’ve learned our lesson from this,” said Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, a member of the UVA, adding that steps like hiring a manager are “low-hanging fruit.”

Biermann said a fire investigator will consult with the district attorney’s office on any potential charges or cost recovery relating to the most recent fire.

Members of the UVA told county staff to give them regular reports on compliance and fire issues at the landfill.

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.