Pender Co. debris fire likely to burn for months

Spontaneous combustion may have caused the fire at the landfill debris pile

PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The N.C. Forest Service and Pender County Emergency Management officials say the large landfill debris fire in Hampstead is likely to burn for months, potentially up to a year or longer.

The fire broke out on February 15, when firefighters were called to the scene and the county was made aware of the unusual situation.

“Escapement of this fire would truly pose a threat to the communities and people that live in the Hampstead area, along Hwy 17 and Hwy 210,” said Pender County Fire Marshal Tommy Batson.

The vegetative landfill is roughly 3-4 acres and 30-40 feet high. It’s on private property, but the Forest Service has declared it a wildfire and is stepping in to oversee that it is consistently supervised.

“There is nothing from here to Hampstead except woodlands and homes mixed in the middle, so you’re talking, if this fire were to get out and run in one burning period -— one day — and it burning to Hampstead, and could possibly burn every home in its path before we could get equipment out to control it,” said Pender Co. N.C. Forest Service Ranger Hagen Blake.

Officials say that while it would not be impossible to put out, there is no realistic way to do it.

The fire is smoldering from the bottom of the pile up, making it unsafe to bring any equipment into it.

“It’s burning under you. Anything could happen. You could fall in a pocket of burning material and basically we just do not have the resources to do that,” Blake said.

The forest service has already conducted one prescribed burn of more than 150 acres to eliminate fuel if embers do spread.

Batson says procedures are in place as they hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

“If this fire were to escape and make a run up to Hampstead, we would utilize resources from the forest service and the fire departments from across eastern North Carolina,” he said.

The fire will be consistently monitored until there is no longer a threat to neighboring communities.

That will be when the mountain of debris is reduced to ash.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but will likely remain officially “undetermined.”

One working theory, however, is spontaneous combustion brought on by the size of the pile and the decomposition of organic material.

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