Jefferson County Commission

Underground Fire Continues to Burn in Forestdale, Forces Residents Out of Their Homes

(Source: Yumi Kimura, Wikimedia Commons)

A fire burning underground in the Forestdale area for six weeks is sending noxious smoke into the neighborhood and forcing people to leave their homes.

Jefferson County is sending in employees to assess the fire and help determine a solution to put it out.

The fire at 532 Timber Ridge Drive started on May 30 and has covered the surrounding area with smoke, forcing people near the fire to seek living arrangements away from their homes.

The fire is on a slope, which is making the ground unstable. Jefferson County Director of Environmental Health Services Jonathan Stanton said that is just one of the complications that has made the fire a serious hazard.

The property was a private and illegal dump, Stanton, and there is uncertainty about what is burning in the fire.

Commissioner Lashunda Scales, whose district includes Forestdale, notified the rest of the commission about the fire during a meeting last week. She said her office had been working on resolving the problem since Forestdale Fire Chief Ty Gober told her about it at the end of May.

“The issue that we have, which is the reason I brought it to the attention of the commission today, is the fact of the enormacy of what we have going on,” Scales said.

Gober could not be reached for further comment.

Commissioners agreed to have two county employees go to the property and assess the fire. Heather McLoren-Carter, the county’s chief engineer, will examine the site with deputy county manager Cal Markert. They will provide an estimate to the commission about how much getting rid of the fire will cost.

Markert said the process will take time.

“The county government can’t just go out on private property and use taxpayer money until there’s declared a public hazard,” he said. “Obviously we believe this is a public hazard, but we’ve got to work through the legal issues.”

A main legal issue is that there is uncertainty about whose responsibility it is to put the fire out. Markert said that it could be the job of the Environmental Protection Agency or the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

It could also fall to the county to resolve the issue and to remove the fire. While the county tries to figure out how to exactly do that, the commissioners directed county attorney Theodore Lawson to pursue legal options and find out who is responsible for the fire.

Scales said the county needs to work through the situation thoroughly to find a solution that gets rid of the fire in a safe way. She paid for a robo-call that went out to residents assuring them that the county would do everything possible to get rid of the danger.

She also said it is important that her constituents get a solution soon. “We need to do something in short order.”

This story has been corrected to reflect that the land where the fire is burning had been an illegal dump, not a legal one.