Smoldering landfill fire keeps community on edge

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Knoxville (WVLT) - Some folks are back in their homes now, but they are being told to keep there bags packed just in case.

Early Friday morning, firefighters evacuated a West Knox County neighborhood after uncovering dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

It all happened less than a half mile from Ray Duncan's house.

"There's a fairly large landfill that's developed up there where a fire has gotten underneath it," said Bruce Wuethrich, from Knox County Engineering & Public Works.

And no one seems to know how long it has been smoldering.

"We were laying in bed about 12:15 AM and our carbon monoxide detector went off, so we called Rural Metro," said Ray Duncan, an evacuee. "I think it peaked at one point at 51, which is very high."

It was so high that Knox County Engineering & Public Works set up a command center and brought in a private contractor to clean up and stabilize what appears to be someone’s junk pile.

"It's an illegal demolition landfill, they've been taking logs, construction debris and all sorts of material up there," said Wuethrich.

“I know it was bad, but I was scared it was going to be something a whole lot worse,” said Amanda Fortenberry, another evacuee. “I didn't know how long we'd be evacuated, I was nervous for my animals outside too.”

The neighborhood seems to be OK, but the land and ground water may not be.

“Extinguishing the fire puts a lot of water on it, so there is some concerns of downstream contamination,” said Wuethrich. “It's important that anyone on a well have their water tested before using that water again.“

Affected neighbors, including Ray and Jennifer Duncan came back home when crews
told them carbon monoxide levels were safe.

But there is still a chance they could order a new round of evacuations.

“Where the dirt is piled up on top of this material, it could re-kindle and the problem re-creates itself all over again,” said Wuethrich.

County crews will be watching the winds, to guard against the threat of fire or carbon monoxide fumes.

Their next priority is to determine who owns landfill property.

Once discovered, that person will face a bill for the cleanup and likely some fines or penalties.

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