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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, Tenn.,-based engineering firm has staff members working on a plan to stifle an underground fire smoldering since late July, state officials said.

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

Web watch

The Arkansas Department of Health has a webpage set up about the Bella Vista stump dump fire. Information can be found at www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/bella-vista-air-monitoring/.

Lawsuit filed

Curtis and Tiffany Macomber, who live near the dump site, have sued Brown’s Tree Care and John Does 1-3 in connection with the fire. The lawsuit was filed in Benton County Circuit Court. It claims continued smoke from the site has created a hazardous situation for the Macombers and their children. The case is assigned to Benton County Circuit Judge Xollie Duncan. Brown’s Tree Care hasn’t filed a response to the lawsuit.

Source: Staff report

EnSafe is an environmental engineering firm that provides environmental, engineering, health and safety and technology solutions, according to its Twitter page. An EnSafe representative didn't return a message left Wednesday.

Hendren said Thursday he hadn't heard any updates. His legislative district includes Bella Vista.

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

Bella Vista Mayor Peter Christie also said he hadn't heard any new reports but was encouraged a plan was being developed.

"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 close to a $1 million Dec. 28 to start the process to suffocate the fire. The money -- $990,000 -- will come from a state fund that has $8 million and is used to help clean hazardous and problematic sites, he said.

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

Smoke from the fire is a big concern, Hendren said. The Arkansas Department of Health said 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 was 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, said the association operated the dump on leased land from December 2003 until the end of 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 doesn't have any record of permits for the site.

Firefighters were initially dispatched to the area July 29, where they spotted 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 using water, trenching around the fire or digging up the flammable material as possible options to douse it.

"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 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."

Third District Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, who toured the site for the second time Dec. 28, mentioned water as a possible solution at 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, Pa. 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.

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 broke out in July. The county has received a few calls about the site since then, he said. The division includes emergency management, the county fire marshal and 911 administration.

The city has received 18 calls about the site since July, with the original call coming in July 29. Only 11 calls were complaints or smoke check requests, said Cassi Lapp, city communications manager. The last call to the city was Dec. 15 when a resident called around 8:30 p.m.

"The stump dump is smoking really bad tonight. Can someone check it out?" the caller said according to the log provided by the city.

There was one call prior to July when the landowner called in a controlled burn April 24, she said.

The city's webpage -- www.bellavistaar.gov -- keeps updated information of the fire including a monthly timeline since July and a short history of the property's ownership.

Christie acknowledged residents have criticized the city.

"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 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."

NW News on 01/06/2019

Print Headline: Plan being devised to stop stump dump fire

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