‘Is It Soup Yet?’: Engineer Submitting Plans for Putting Out Landfill Fire

Fire burns above- and underground at an environmental landfill in Moody. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Dan Dahlke was reminded of a 1970s TV commercial when he was asked about his submission to Gov. Kay Ivey to put out the months-long smoldering landfill fire in Moody.

“Is it soup yet?”

“It’s getting there,” the St. Clair County engineer said Friday. “I’ve sent stuff over to the county attorney and I think he’s putting it all together and trying to figure out exactly who we need to send this to (in) the governor’s office.

“When he finds that, we’ll probably shoot this off to whoever this afternoon.”

Dahlke has received proposals from a number of contractors with varied ideas for dealing with the fire that has been burning for about two months and irritating residents as far as 30 miles away. Residents have been complaining not just about the smell and the smoke, but about health effects such as asthma, coughing and nausea.

“It’s a package is what it is,” he said. “We’ve been taking information and we’ve talked to contractors as they’ve come in. We’ve discussed the best we could the conditions that we know about there.”

Some contractors ultimately chose not to submit a proposal while a few have. “The ones that we have are the ones that we’re turning over to the state,” the county engineer said. “Some have similarities between them and some differences also.”

Dahlke is at least anxious to get the proposals to Montgomery so a course of action can be determined.

“I would say past anxious,” he said. “I don’t really have a good word for it, I don’t guess, but I’m definitely anxious to see what the next step is here.”

The property on fire is an environmental landfill, which is set up to take trees and brush and such. The fire is burning underground and breaking through at multiple locations on the surface, which complicates efforts to extinguish it.

A pair of Trussville residents have filed a lawsuit over the fire that’s been burning for almost two months near Moody, WBHM reported. The suit alleges, among other claims, that the owners and operators of Environmental Landfill Inc. have been negligent, and it calls for compensatory and punitive damages.

The complaint says that the smoke “frequently smells of chemicals” due to the buried unauthorized waste and that an air quality monitor placed near the site has registered unhealthy-to-hazardous levels of particulates.

The complaint cites years of inspections and violations from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management showing that the agency had found unauthorized waste like tires, power poles, construction debris and scrap metal on the property, WBHM reported. Many of the documents also note the site’s heightened fire hazard risk. Responses from the landfill operators showed that they took steps to remove unauthorized waste from the property in 2013 and again in 2017. In a 2018 response, ADEM said the site met the criteria for an unauthorized solid waste dump and asked for a closure plan, but the site continued operating. After another inspection in 2020, ADEM documents show that the owners removed unauthorized waste twice in 2021.

However, in the last inspection before the fire started — in August 2022 — the inspector wrote that, while he didn’t see any unauthorized waste, he was informed by one of the operators, Charlie Rich, that unauthorized waste was buried in several areas on the property and that he planned to have it remediated over the next 18 months. The fire began in November.