For the second time in a week the McPherson Fire Department battled a fire at the McPherson Landfill, responding on Sunday morning to the report of a fire.
At just before 9 a.m. someone spotted smoke and called 911. The department responded and fought the fire for about 12 hours before it was extinguished.
“We had a really great suppression operation,” said Fire Chief TJ Wyssmann. “Our personnel pushed really hard and knocked a lot of the energy out of that fire. We had it about 90 percent suppressed and 100 percent contained. We had just a corner of that burning Sunday night where a lot of smoke was coming out of the landfill.”
In the evening hours the department issued a warning, telling McPherson residents to stay inside to avoid smoke containing toxic substances that could head to the city due to high winds during the event.
“We have not had anything out of the ordinary on the monitors,” Wyssmann said.
That, however, does not mean the warning wasn’t serious.
“We really want people to heed those warnings and not dramatize them,” Wyssman said. “Take that stuff seriously. Understand that we are issued those warnings because we think there is a health and safety risk to the public. That was done in precauction.”
Firefighters fought the fire for about 15 hours, and continued air monitoring continued through Monday.
Fighting a fire in a landfill is challenging — and dangerous.
“You have a lot of unstable ground where you are putting a lot of heavy equipment,” Wyssmann said. “Basically, you have a big weight on top of a bunch of styrofoam. You add water to that, and it becomes more and more unstable. … Not only are we worried about losing our apparatus … the thing we worry most about is protecting our personnel when we are fighting this fire. We can easily lose someone down a crevasse or hole that is not anticipated to be there or collapsed. There are a lot of nasty carcinogens coming off, this is everything that people are discarding and a lot of things we do not want to breathe in.”
Those same things causing nausea and headaches for firefighters exposed to the smoke could have drifted over McPhersona as well. Wyssmann said the wind and cold that night presented challenges as well.
“The men and women here take their licks, don’t complain and they keep going,” Wyssmann said. “I am very proud to serve with them.”
According to Wyssmann the cause of the fire is still under investigation.