Hornsby Bend compost fire still smoldering

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by JESSICA VESS & JESSICA HOLLOWAY / KVUE News & Photojournalist KENNETH NULL

Bio | Email | Follow: @JessicaV_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on February 26, 2013 at 8:58 AM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 27 at 8:32 AM

AUSTIN -- High winds are fueling a compost fire in Southeast Travis County.

The fire sparked Monday afternoon at the Hornsby Bend Wastewater Treatment Facility off FM 973. Austin Water spokesperson Jason Hill says as long as the wind keeps up, the compost piles will continue to smolder.
 
Smoke in the area is thick. Austin Fire Department crews are monitoring the fire. Crews are working in shifts. As long as the winds continue, they can't fight the flames. Instead their focus is on containing it.
 
Firefighters say the compost fire will likely burn for several days and adding water will do nothing to help, so officials plan to let the compost fire burn.
 
People who live and work nearby are trying to deal with the smoke. Angie Mendoza lives across the street from the plant. She's worried about her grandchildren because one suffers from asthma.
 
“It smelled real bad in here, real bad,” said Mendoza. “We had to keep the ceiling fans going and put Vick’s on the kid's nose. Even my granddaughter this morning, she left at 6:45 to school and she said ‘Grandma I can't breathe. I can't breathe. It stinks out there.’ So I had to take her in the car [to school] because she was having trouble breathing.”
 
The compost piles are a made of mulch, yard trimmings and by-product of the solid waste (Dillo Dirt). The piles stretch up about 20 feet high. Hill says they're in a constant state of chemical composting and can ignite with high wind gusts.  
 
This is the second fire of its type at the wastewater treatment plant since December. A similar blaze sparked on Christmas day. It took several days to knock it out completely.
 
Crews are expecting a similar wait this time. Once the flames are out, crews will continue watching for hot spots to make sure the winds don't ignite another fire. They're also monitoring the air out around the facility.
 
Most families have returned home after a voluntary evacuation issued by the City.
 
The smoke is not toxic and is not considered to be hazardous to the general public. The Austin Fire Department has been monitoring air quality in nearby neighborhoods to make sure residents are safe. A spokesman for the Hornsby plant says the company is taking air samples and none of the readings so far have proven to be dangerous.

Police advise residents to call 911 if they see smoke and fire.

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