Flames engulfed hundreds of bales of recyclable materials at Civic Recycling, 3300 Brown Station Road, sending a column of black smoke into the blue evening sky Tuesday.
A Civic Recycling employee reported the two-alarm fire at 4:24 p.m. to Station 4 of the Columbia Fire Department. The downtown station was called later.
The wind quickly whipped the fire from the outdoor bales to the inside of the main processing building, the plant’s newest building, said Battalion Chief Steven Sapp of the Columbia Fire Department.
Sapp said Civic Recycling management had accounted for all their workers and none were injured.
Fire lined the north and east sides of the building as firefighters worked to secure their positions and establish a water supply.
Sapp said he arrived shortly after Engine 4 and assisted the engine’s firefighting. At one point, the fire spread to three sides of the engine, Sapp said. When that happens, the firefighters work to position their equipment carefully so no one gets cornered or blocked in.
“It got quite interesting for an office guy,” Sapp said.
Fire crews had the fire controlled by 6 p.m., using four hydrants and an aerial apparatus that sent streams blasting onto the fire from above, said Lt. Debbie Sorrell. Sapp said aerial streams were being used mostly to try and penetrate the burning bales because they spray more water than hand-held hoses.
The fire department enlisted some Bobcat front–end loaders to aid in their battle with the bales. The firefighters used the Bobcats to remove unburned bales of recyclables from the inside of the building.
The wind wasn’t helping the fight, however. Twenty to 25 mph winds ripped burning paper, plastics and cardboard from one fiery bale to the next. Winds also puncture aerial streams of water, making it difficult for the water to pound the flames.
Electricity was another concern for the department. Columbia Water and Light was at the scene, attempting to turn off the electricity and eliminate a second risk for firefighters inside the building.
Meanwhile, water from Engine 5 streamed down the edges of Brown Station Road, which was crowded with flashing emergency vehicles and congested traffic. Drivers and cyclists slowed to catch a glimpse of the action.
The fire department deployed six engines, one ladder, five staff units and a rescue unit to the fire, but they were not alone in the fight. The Columbia Police Department and the Boone County Sheriff’s Department directed traffic and were available for assistance. Boone County Fire Protection District was also ready in case the Columbia Fire Department needed more help. Off-duty firefighters were called in to staff stations and reserve equipment while the fire blazed.
Civic Recycling has had a history of fires, Sapp said.
“There have been two or three multiple–alarm fires in the past five or six years,” Sapp said.
The plant housed hundreds of bales of combustible material ranging in size from 8 feet by 8 feet and larger, Sapp said.
The building involved in Tuesday’s fire was built after the last fire. Sapp said it was up to fire code, and its working sprinkler system helped limit damage.
Next door to the plant, debris from the fire landed on some of the old signs owned by Columbia Signs Svc. Sapp said the sign damage was very minor.
The cause of the fire was under investigation Tuesday night. There were no damage estimates at that time.