The City of Knoxville has fully reviewed what led up to a large mulch fire in April that sent thick smoke billowing into the air for days. The report also outlines steps to prevent similar fires from happening again.
Mayor Madeline Rogero called for a comprehensive review of what happened at Shamrock Organic Products on Ailor Avenue near downtown Knoxville. The fire started on April 15 and burned for more than a week. The Knoxville Fire Department sprayed more than 25 million gallons on the smoldering mountains of mulch before the fire was completely out.
The city temporarily stopped doing business with Shamrock Organic Products until safety measures could be put in place and a full investigation was conducted. On Wednesday, the mayor's office released the results of the mulch fire report.
"We want to ensure that a fire of this nature doesn't happen again," said Rogero. "This review is a thorough analysis of past events and a road map for how we will move forward."
Wednesday morning 10News met with the owner of Shamrock Organic Products, Randy Greaves, to discuss changes that have already been implemented.
Storm Debris Saturation
Knoxville Fire Department investigators said Wednesday the cause of the mulch fire is still under investigation and will likely be unable to be determined. However, Greaves said they have determined where the fire started and some key contributing factors.
"The point of origin of the fire was the raw brush immediately at my front gate," said Greaves. "We don't know if it was spontaneous combustion or arson, but the report says it likely started in a hybrid pile of brush and mulch near the gate."
Whatever the cause, an overflow of yard waste from severe storms in 2011 added fuel to the fire by allowing piles to reach dangerous levels.
"We've made some changes to help avoid future fires. We've agreed with the City of Knoxville to put up 24 hour cameras and we have 24 hour security on site. We've resized all the material on the property and we've rearranged all the material on the property," said Greaves. "The piles are not as tall and they are spaced out more for better access."
The report acknowledged the city shared some blame for contributing to the fire. As crews worked furiously to clear unprecedented amounts of debris after severe storms in 2011, the report states "the City's focused efforts in clearing streets and public spaces failed to adequately take into account the hazards associated with an overburdened collection site."
The city's contract obligated Shamrock to take yard waste deliveries and did not allow crews to "immediately divert flow away from the site when the site is overburdened with unanticipated volume," according to the report. The city will be able to take any overflow material to other contractors if Shamrock becomes overwhelmed in the future.
"I think the positive to this is everyone has had a chance to look at this to make sure in unprecedented storms you don't overwhelm a property," said Greaves. "You don't want to put someone in a position where something bad can happen. We were all trying our best after those storms."
Shamrock was also required to test all of the scorched material at its site to ensure it was safe for processing and distribution. Greaves said all tests showed no contamination.
Greaves said another change for Shamrock was the implementation of a storm-water management system, construction of new berms, and installation of a drain filter to keep the site "water tight."
"A lot of the runoff from the firefighters spraying the fire went into the East Branch of Third Creek. The sudden change in water temperature was a shock and caused a fish kill," said Greaves. "There was no long term damage done to the creek. I've had environmental experts look at this creek and tell me it's perfectly healthy. This creek is full of fish. They're everywhere."
The report said the city has required Shamrock to obtain and implement a Fire Hazard Analysis and Protection plan with weekly Knoxville Fire Department inspections until the operation is in full compliance. Once Shamrock meets the requirements, inspections will be conducted monthly for six months and then become routine on a quarterly basis.
The mayor's report also stated "the centrally located site on Ailor Avenue is well suited to the successful operation of the yard waste recycling program" as long as there are adequate safeguards.
"No one regrets this fire more than Shamrock Organic Products," said Greaves. "But we're better for it now and we're ready to go back to work."
Greaves says he hopes Shamrock can begin accepting city yard waste as early as this Friday.
Senior staff members at Rogero's office prepared the report, which examines the causes associated
with the fire, the city's response, and recommendations for action. The recommendations may be read in a pdf copy of the 117 page document. The mayor's office also issued a media release highlighting some main points of the report.