May 21, 2019
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Carmel fire chief: Oil residue likely set massive pile of junk cars on fire

Courtesy Carmel Fire Department | BDN
Courtesy Carmel Fire Department | BDN
A firefighter looks upon the recycled debris pile that caught fire at Ideal Recycling in Carmel on Monday.

A massive fire at a Carmel recycling plant Monday started when a car burst into flames as a crane dropped it on the facility’s junkyard pile, the local fire chief said.

The vehicle likely contained flammable oil residue that caught fire as it crashed down on the 30-feet tall, 100-feet wide pile of recycled cars, tires, and debris at Ideal Recycling, Inc., setting it ablaze, said Carmel Fire Chief Ralph Shaw. The fire destroyed about a third of the pile by the time firefighters knocked it down five hours later, he said.

“Once they turned [the car] over and dropped it, it burst into flames. Something inside the vehicle caught fire, we’re not sure what it was,” but it was likely residual motor oil or gas, Shaw said.

“Generally they make sure the gas and the oil are gone” before a car is crushed and recycled, Shaw said. “They’re usually ready for transport. They’re saying there was something inside the vehicle that caused it to catch,” he said, referring to plant employees.

An employee at Ideal Recycling on Tuesday deferred to the owner for comment, who was unavailable. No employees or firefighters were injured, Shaw said.

Monday’s was the second blaze in five years caused by an oil-tainted piece of recycling that was being processed at the facility. In May 2013, workers accidentally set fire to an 100-gallon oil tank that still contained oil sludge.

The crane operator who dropped the oily car on Monday reportedly tried to move the flaming vehicle away from the rest of the pile after it slammed down, but “of course, there’s stuff dripping off it, so [the fire] rapidly spread,” Shaw said.

Flames quickly raced toward the crane, which sat adjacent to the pile, forcing the operator to flee for his safety, Shaw said. The fire then consumed the crane.

To Shaw’s knowledge, that was the only piece of equipment or property destroyed in the fire, which burned from around 11:25 a.m. to 4 p.m., and required the help of 16 local fire departments, the Air National Guard and a Maine Forest Service helicopter to extinguish. Fire personnel didn’t leave the site until 8:30 p.m. as they worked to douse hotspots, and some were still present at the site on Tuesday, Shaw said.

Throughout Monday afternoon, firefighters worked to contain the fire to the cleared junkyard about 2,000 feet from the plant’s address on Main Street, or Route 2, Shaw said. Their activity shut down the road for most of Monday afternoon.

A crew from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection also arrived at the scene to monitor the air quality risks posed by the burning oils, Shaw said. He wasn’t aware the fire caused any hazards.

Shaw has asked the recycling company to reduce the size of their junk piles to avoid another fire of Monday’s magnitude, which suraspassed the size of the 2013 oil tank fire, Shaw said.

“That’s our hope,” he said, but noted that no law or town ordinances can force the company to comply with the request. “You never know with the way they do that in there. We can’t really regulate it, but we can ask them to do things like that.”

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