More than 2,400 structures were damaged or destroyed during the wildfires that ripped through Sevier County in late November, and now all the debris is rapidly filling up the Sevier County landfill.
"We are walking on people's homes, on everything they've lost in the fires," said Sevier Solid Waste spokesperson Laura Howard.
Howard took WBIR 10News to a temporary dump site. It looks like a construction site, but beneath the dirt is thousands of tons of debris from the wildfires.
"Here we mostly get a lot of concrete, rubble and burnt ash," Howard said.
"A lot" is no understatement. The landfill is currently taking in 1,000 tons of trash per day. Before the fires, it took in an average of 200 tons per day.
"We've never taken in that much material at one time, I mean we've never had that many tons coming in all at once," said Sevier Solid Waste General Manager Tom Leonard.
The massive influx of debris came at a time that the plant's 12-year-old landfill was already almost full.
SSW was already in the process of building another permanent landfill when the fires moved through. However, it will not be ready until late spring.
"Before the fires, we had about eight months to a year left before that was full, and if we would've put the fire debris in there it would be full now," Leonard said.
In the last two months, 27,000 tons of debris exclusively from the wildfires have been dumped at the landfill. In all of 2016, the landfill collected 40,000 tons of debris.
An additional 1.5 million pounds of metal has been dropped off at a temporary recycling site in Gatlinburg.
Because the current landfill was almost full and the new landfill isn't ready yet, Leonard filed a request for a temporary dump site with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to help hold the wildfire waste. SSW has permission to use that site for up to a year.
"We would like to be out of that site within the next three or four months, though," Leonard said.
According to Department of Environment and Conservation rules, all trash sitting in a temporary dump site must be moved to a permanent dump site when the year ends.
Meaning the 27,000 tons of debris - plus whatever else is dumped in the temporary site in the next few months - must be dug up and moved to the permanent site.
"It's going to be a big project. We're going to have to bring a contractor in," Leonard said.
Leonard says debris dumps have slowed down, but that doesn't mean they'll stop anytime soon.
"We're about a third of the way done. I would say we're looking at two more years of material coming in here," he said.
Leonard says if you are a property owner and would like to help:
- Make sure to separate metal from other debris and drop it off at a recycling location
- Fill up your truck as much as possible to cut back on your number of trips
If you would like more information about Sevier Solid Waste, click here.
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