PLATTEVILLE, Colo. (CBS4) – Dozens of firefighting crews in Northern Colorado used lessons learned more than three decades ago, in 1987, to extinguish a large tire fire. “Tire mountain,” as the locals call it, is a recycling company east of Platteville with more than eight million used tires spread across 64 mounds, or “cells.”
Seven of them caught on fire on Wednesday, with the cause still not officially determined. The plume from the fire could be seen as far away as Denver, but was completely extinguished within 24 hours.
Firefighters say the same property went up in flames 33 years ago, and that time it took nearly a week to extinguish. The fire chief in the area in 1987 was Gary Homyak, who now serves as the fire department’s board president.
“It was the same black smoke we had seen 33 years ago,” Homyal told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas. “I was fire chief at that time. That was our first experience with tire mountain.”
In the years since, Homyak has shared the stories of his experience battling that blaze. In 1987, nobody in the region knew how to battle a fire which engulfed rubber tires.
“We tried putting as much water as we could put on it. We tried foams. We tried air drops,” Homyak said.
After nearly a week of battling the fire, firefighters realized their best weapon in the battle was right under their noses.
“Luckily we are in a rural area where dirt is readily available,” Homyak said.
Firefighters in 1987 dispersed the tires and then buried burning ones with dirt. The fire quickly died down after.
Homyak was able to give that same advice to firefighters this week, which helped them gain full containment in just hours and extinguish 85% of the fire in just 24 hours.
“As soon as we saw the black plume of smoke we knew it was probably that facility,” said District Chief Dan Durkee. “Fortunately a number of the firefighters that were here in 1987 were still around.”
Homyak said the department called in for assistance from the county, and one dozen other firefighting agencies.
“The first thing we did was build a berm around the fire to keep it from spreading or getting any exposures. Then we slowly attacked the fire and started putting dirt on it to extinguish it, and that proved pretty successful,” Durkee said.
Homyak said he was proud of how quickly the departments took action and contained the fire.
“It was a great job, well done,” Homyak said.
The EPA did test air qualities in the area and deemed them safe for nearby residents.