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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Smoke rises Friday, Dec. 14, from an underground fire at the former "stump dump" site on Trafalgar Road in Bella Vista.

BELLA VISTA -- A Memphis-based engineering firm has staff members working on a plan to extinguish an underground fire that has smoldered in Bella Vista since late July, state officials said.

State Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, said representatives from EnSafe were at the Trafalgar Road "stump dump" last week. The governor's office said EnSafe and Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality staff members were at the fire site. EnSafe and the Environmental Quality agency are to work together on a plan to extinguish the fire.

EnSafe provides environmental, engineering, health and safety, and technology solutions, according to its Twitter page.

Hendren, whose district includes Bella Vista, said Thursday that he had not heard any updates on the fire.

"They understand how critical it is to get a plan soon," he said.

Bella Vista Mayor Peter Christie said he is encouraged that a strategy is being developed but he has not heard any new reports about extinguishing the fire.

"I am greatly relieved there is a planning process we are going through and that there will be a resolution for this," he said.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson pledged $990,000 on Dec. 28 to start work on suffocating the fire. The money will come from a state fund that has $8 million and is used to help clean up hazardous and problematic sites, he said.

Hutchinson signed an emergency proclamation Wednesday to help cut through government red tape on the project, he said.

Smoke from the fire is a big concern, Hendren said. The Arkansas Department of Health said that Dec. 12 preliminary results of monitoring near the fire showed air quality in the "unhealthy" category, according to a news release. Everyone within a half-mile radius of the 8000 block of Trafalgar Road has been cautioned to avoid prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.

"It smells a lot like a brush fire, but you have to be concerned about what's in the smoke," Hendren said.

Tom Judson, the Bella Vista Property Owners Association's chief operating officer, previously said the association leased the site and operated it as a wood and yard-waste dump starting in December 2003 and ending in 2016 when the dump was covered with soil.

Nobody monitored the site the last few years it was open, but staff members would remove trash when possible, Judson said. The stump dump operation was closed Dec. 31, 2016, according to Bella Vista's website. The property is owned by Brown's Tree Care.

"This Trafalgar site is an unpermitted disposal site that has been used over the last decade, is my understanding," Hutchinson said Dec. 28.

The state Department of Environmental Quality does not have any record of permits for the site.

Firefighters were initially sent to the fire site July 29, where they saw smoke and what appeared to be the remains of a brush fire, Fire Chief Steve Sims said.

Fire Department personnel have said the fire may be burning more than 50 or 60 feet underground.

Christie previously mentioned watering the area, trenching around the fire or digging up the flammable material as possible ways to douse the blaze.

"We have not been told of any right way to do it," Christie said. "It could be a combination of things that have been discussed."

Hendren said he had heard the same ideas discussed by officials Dec. 28.

"It's critical they give us the best option," Hendren said. "All of those things are possible. We have a professional organization with experience to guide us through this."

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, who toured the site for the second time Dec. 28, mentioned the use of water as a possible solution during a news conference later that day.

"I was somewhat pleased that they haven't taken at least one potential remedy off the table, and that is a water application, although I know a lot of us are concerned about the downstream effect on Lake Ann and potentially creating another ecological disaster while trying to fix the original," Womack said.

Mike Richmond is chief of the Engineering Services and Technology Transfer branch of the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in Pittsburgh. He said underground coal refuse fires are usually put out by extracting the flammable material, extinguishing it and then regrading the area. An underground fire will burn as long as there's flammable material available, he said.

RESIDENTS CALL

Robert McGowen, administrator for the Benton County Division of Public Safety, said there were no nuisance or complaint calls related to the property before the fire started in July. The county has received a few calls about the site since then, he said. His division includes emergency management, the county fire marshal and 911 administration.

The city has received 18 calls about the site since July. The first call was on July 29. Only 11 calls were complaints or smoke-check requests, said Cassi Lapp, city communications manager.

The last call to the city was about 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 15. "The stump dump is smoking really bad tonight. Can someone check it out?" the caller asked, according to the log provided by the city.

There was one fire call in the area before July when a landowner reported a controlled burn April 24, she said.

The city's Web page -- www.bellavistaar.gov -- shows updated information on the fire, including a monthly timeline since July and a short history of the property's ownership.

Christie acknowledged that residents have criticized the city over the blaze.

"It's expected when something like this happens -- people turn to their government," he said. "We didn't start the fire, and we don't own the stump dump."

Residents need to know that the problem won't go away quickly, Christie said.

"That's not good news to the residents who live in that area," he said. "It can't be a quick fix. It doesn't work that way."

Metro on 01/07/2019

Print Headline: Firm devising plan to extinguish underground fire in Bella Vista

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