The Record’Holder: Three Seasons in Winchester, Va.

The Record’Holder: Three Seasons in Winchester, Va.

The great granddaddy of all junk tire fires remains the one discovered on Halloween, 1983, about 70 miles west northwest of Washington, D.C., in Winchester, Va.

An estimated 5 million tires piled onto five acres were destroyed before that arson fire burned itself out a few days after another holiday—-the Fourth of July, 1984.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has spent more than $1.8 million on the fire, not fighting it, but attempting to prevent and now minimize the danger of the fire’s toxic byproducts contaminating water courses downstream. In late January, the first results from a series of soil tests completed in December 1987 were returned to EPA engineers. Nearly four years after the fire was declared out, the EPA must now decide the least expensive and most effective way to clean up this Superfund site.

During the seven months, firefighters poured millions of gallons of water onto the blaze. The EPA built barriers to retain the water on site, skimmed off a million gallons of No. 4 fuel oil that the heat had extracted from the tires, pumped it into tanker trucks, and hauled it away to be sold for recycling, at 32 cents a gallon. The proceeds helped the EPA recover its expenses.

The arsonist was apprehended, tried, and sentenced to seven years in prison.

The owner of the tires also owned the land on which they burned. When the fire started, he was due to respond in county court to a request by Frederick County, Va., officials that he be barred from hauling additional tires onto the site.

He is free, and no liability was assigned to him. According to Frederick County Administrator John Riley, the owner isn’t suspected of having any connection with the arsonist, whose crime is still having consequences for taxpayers: The EPA expects to have to remove contaminated sediment from a pond on site, at unknown cost.

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