Austin compost fire costs city nearly $3 million

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by KRIS BETTS / KVUE News and photojournalist DEREK RASOR

khou.com

Posted on March 20, 2013 at 9:30 AM

AUSTIN, Texas -- The images were incredible: acres of compost ignited by high winds burning in Southeast Austin.

"We're in an unprecedented time with the drought. A lot of those piles normally hold a lot more moisture," said Jason Hill with the Austin Water Department.

Now, 22 days after the fire began, the flames are finally out. “We are at the point where we can say the firefighting portion of this event is over,” said Hill.

KVUE has learned the total cost of fighting this fire, and the clean-up currently underway, is in the millions. “We're at the $2 million mark and heading toward the $3 million mark,” Hill said.

Angie Mendoza, a homeowner living directly across from the Hornsby Bend Bio-treatment Plant, faced several health-related issues due to the fire, but also said she’s thankful the city kept them informed.

“They did a good job because they warned everybody and they would leave flyers if they weren't home that said they were going to let it burn down until it finished."

However, Mendoza also said the smoke from the fire was so bad her granddaughter had to leave the house for two weeks.

“She would get up in the middle of the night saying, 'Grandma I can't breathe.'   So I had to send her off to my mom's until the odor went away because she couldn't breathe at night," said Mendoza.

The smell from the burning compost was everywhere. “We already had the smell inside the house and it was worse out here,” Mendoza said.

But the Hornsby Glen community can now breathe easier knowing the fire is at last extinguished.

This was the second compost fire at the plant in just a couple of months; the first one broke out in December during a windy day.

The Austin Water Department is now working with Central Texas scientists to determine how they can avoid a third fire from erupting as the drought continues.

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