Fire roars through woodpile at Cedar Grove Composting

August 18, 2009

By Warren Kagarise


A compost fire at Cedar Grove Composting Aug. 17 is fought by a stream of water from a tank truck. Maple Valley Fire Department tankers, company trucks, bulldozers and backhoes also attacked the fire. By Greg Farrar

A fire at Cedar Grove Composting sent smoke billowing into the air early Aug. 17 as crews worked to contain a blaze that began in a woodpile.

Though firefighters quickly contained the blaze at the composting facility south of Issaquah, authorities said the heap could smolder for hours after flames were doused.

Maple Valley Fire & Life Safety crews responded to a report of a fire at about 5:45 a.m. Flames engulfed a compost pile and sent smoke billowing into the air. Firefighters contained the blaze within 45 minutes while news helicopters hovered overhead.

Maple Valley Fire Chief Larry Rude said the blaze was “very, very well contained” by 9:30 a.m.

Crews sealed the smoldering area beneath dirt and compost to starve the flames of oxygen. Rude said light winds and quick action by Cedar Grove employees prevented the fire from spreading.Susan Thoman, corporate business development director for Cedar Grove owner Emerald Services Inc., said Cedar Grove had employees work closely with firefighters to develop a fire response plan.

“Cedar Grove has a fire plan in place to effectively deal with these situations,” Thoman wrote in an e-mail. “We implemented this plan as soon as the fire was discovered. One of the steps we follow is to isolate a burning pile to avoid its spreading, which has been done in this case.”

Thoman said the fire started in a wood “reject” pile.

Rude said the blaze was likely caused by spontaneous combustion. He said moisture from rains last week caused pressure to build inside the woodpile.

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency officials arrived at the site soon after the blaze to monitor air quality.

No injuries occurred as a result of the blaze.

Issaquah Resource Conservation Coordinator Micah Bonkowski said garbage collection for the city would be unaffected by the fire.

County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, whose district includes Issaquah but not the Cedar Grove site, said the incident provided a chance to examine how King County handles waste.

Lambert traveled to Europe two years ago to study how garbage can be converted into electricity. She is regarded as a local expert on waste management issues.

Lambert said residents have complained about odors from the Cedar Grove Facility. Lambert said residents often believe odors from Cedar Grove are emanating from nearby Cedar Hills Regional Landfill.

Lambert noted how compost should be stored in an enclosed space and turned frequently to prevent gases from building up.

Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment on this story at

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