Wednesday morning's rain helped Knoxville firefighters as they entered the fourth day of battling a large mulch and brush pile fire at Shamrock Organic Products.
When it rains, it cuts down on the amount KFD pours on the smoldering yard waste. The fire department anticipates a relatively enormous water bill after more than three solid days of spraying the fire.
"We don't know exactly how much water we have used so far, but it is in the millions of gallons," said Captain D.J. Corcoran with the Knoxville Fire Department.
With water, water, everywhere, Corcoran said not a drop is free for taxpayers.
"KUB bills the fire department for the water. The money all comes out of the fire department's budget," said Corcoran. "Our total budget for the year is around $30 million. About $2 million of that is
set aside for excessive water use. We try to budget for the worst case scenario, and $2 million should cover any
major fire or several major fires."
The fire at Shamrock Organic Products is on pace to become Knoxville's thirstiest and most expensive in recent years. The bill for the McClung Warehouse fire in 2007 was around $10,000.
"To put it in perspective, in 2007 for the McClung Tower fire, we billed them for 10
million gallons," said Jason Meridieth, media specialist for Knoxville Utilities Board. "We estimate that this particular fire on Ailor
Avenue will exceed that amount."
"This mulch fire is totally different that the McClung fire because that was a structural fire," said Corcoran. "You are able to make progress and see exactly where you are. With this fire, the problem is getting the water to it and knowing where the fire is. The coals are all deep underneath the pile so it is really hard."
The price of water drops the more you use. The fire at Shamrock will certainly qualify for KUB's lowest rate of around $1.34 per 1,000 gallons.
If the current firefighting efforts use more water than the McClung Warehouse fire, KFD will have an additional charge of more than $13,400 on this month's bill.
"It is hard to say how long we are going to be here and how much water we are going to use at this time," said Corcoran.
KFD purchased a new product to hopefully provide some aid in the effort to extinguish the fire. A pallet of FireAde arrived and will be mixed with the water to help reach the internal fire.
"We were told about FireAde by the folks at the Bull Run plant. They mix it with water and it helps the water penetrate piles of things like coal ash instead of just being absorbed at the top," said Corcoran. "We are going to give it a shot and spray some of this over the top of it [the fire] or with a penetrating nozzle. Then we'll let it seep down and try to extinguish those coals that are burning deep inside those piles."
*Reporter's note: The original version of the story contained a typographical error that said KUB charges $1.34 per 10,000 gallons. It has been corrected to read $1.34 per 1,000 gallons as its lowest rate.