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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF Smoke rises from the underground fire Friday at the stump dump site in Bella Vista.

BELLA VISTA -- Residents near an underground fire can expect the smoke to get worse over the next few weeks before it gets better, officials cautioned.

Efforts to extinguish the fire should start today at the former stump dump site on Trafalgar Road, according to the Bella Vista Property Owners Association. Firefighters discovered the fire at the closed stump dump July 29.

The association agreed to take over responsibility to pay to extinguish and clean up the site, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality announced May 3. The state will maintain inspection duties and provide oversight, according to a news release.

Preparation work started at the site Thursday, said Donnally Davis with ADEQ. Work included establishing exclusion zones marked with construction fencing, connecting to the on site fire hydrant, running fire hoses, setting and testing fire pumps, setting water pump and hoses to bypass the work zone and installing breathing air bottles on heavy equipment, according to a Property Owners website dedicated to the site.

Contractors performing the work have emphasized smoke coming from the fire could worsen as work progresses, Tom Judson, the association's chief operating officer, said in a video posted to the website Tuesday.

"Potentially, the smoke could be, when we are putting it out, the worst that we have seen to date," he said.

The first couple of days of firefighting will be experimental with limited operations as workers move into the landfill and begin to expose burning debris and extinguish it, according to information on the website.

That initial work will give contractors a good idea of smoke and particulate generation and allow for air monitoring data to provide an idea of how aggressive the fire can be attacked, according to the website.

Burn trenches on site will incinerate organic material, Judson said.

The association will employ three companies to put the fire out, Judson has said. ERM will act as the project manager, he said in Tuesday's video. CTEH will do air quality monitoring, and E-3 Environmental will put out the fire, he said.

CTEH will be do real-time air quality monitoring and be in direct connection with E3, Judson said.

Particulate matter air monitoring showed air quality index readings mostly in the "good" range for testing done April 25 to May 8, according to ADEQ. Testing sites are at Fire Station No. 2 and near Cooper Elementary School.

There was one "moderate" reading on April 26 at the fire station.

An air quality index of 0 to 50 is considered "good," according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The federal agency says the air quality index is a yardstick that runs from 0 to 500. The higher the air quality index value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern.

Particulate matter monitoring measures the amount of solid and liquid droplets found in the air, such as ash, dust and smoke. The amount provides a snapshot of local air quality and how it might affect health, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

Some area residents have complained of respiratory and other health problems they associate with the smoke.

State officials urged residents near the fire in December to avoid prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors after an unhealthy air quality reading in the area. The state continues to caution people living within a half-mile radius of the blaze, although recent testing has shown air quality results mostly in the "good" range.

Judson has said the association operated the dump on leased land from December 2003 to Dec. 31, 2016, when it was covered with soil. Nobody monitored the site the last few years it was open, but staff members would remove trash when possible, he has said. The property is now owned by Brown's Tree Care.

The association plan is to have to the fire extinguished within 30 days, Judson said.

The 30-day period includes permanent control, abatement and extinction of the fire, Davis said. Sorting and removal of material will overlap in Phase 1 and Phase 2, she said.

Weather could affect the plan, though. The National Weather Service in Tulsa says showers and thunderstorms are possible today. Some of the storms could produce heavy rainfall. The chance of precipitation is 90%.

The association is required to submit its Phase 2 plan to ADEQ for review within 60 days after completion of the first phase, Davis said. The next phase would include site remediation.

The state started work to stifle the fire before the Property Owners Association took over. The General Assembly appropriated $20 million for the project. Davis said May 3 the state had spent an estimated $750,000, and the association is one of a number of parties the agency will try to get money from.

The fire can be put out for as little as $4 million, Judson has said.

There have been two lawsuits filed related to the fire.

A family living near the fire sued Cooper Communities, developers of Bella Vista; the Property Owners Association; Blue Mountain Storage; and Brown's Tree Service. Curtis and Tiffany Macomber claim continued smoke from the site has created a hazardous situation for their family.

Bella Vista resident Jim Parsons filed a lawsuit against Cooper Communities; the Property Owners Association; Tom Fredericks, who owned Blue Mountain Storage; and ADEQ. Fredericks is the only remaining defendant.

NW News on 05/18/2019

Print Headline: Firefighting set to start at Bella Vista dump

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