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Pa. FFs battle compost fire for nearly 2 weeks

Piles at the Penn Township facility cover more than 670,000 square feet

By Jack Panyard

PENN TOWNSHIP, Pa. — For nearly two weeks, firefighters have been battling a blaze at a compost business that escalated into a building fire Tuesday, according to Penryn Fire Chief Shannon Martin.

Dispatch logs show Penryn and surrounding fire companies converged on A&M Compost, also known as J.P. Mascaro & Sons, at the intersection of Mountain and Boyer Run roads in Penn Township at 10:15 a.m. Tuesday for a trash fire that spread to a building that afternoon.

Martin said the fire began about 12 days ago when a truck driver on the property hit a power line, which cut the ventilation systems in the compost building. The fire eventually spread from the compost to the metal shed housing it. Crews got the building fire under control by Wednesday and continue to find and extinguish the compost fires.

Power has since been restored to the compost building.

Indoor compost piles have a high risk of combustion due to noxious fumes and highly flammable materials, making ventilation a must. A study from the University of Michigan reported combustion is a risk when internal temperatures reach 300 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

The piles at A&M are massive and spread across more than 670,000 square feet of warehousing space — enough to contain more than 11 football fields. Most piles in the compost building are at least 7 to 8 feet high.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the compost building was pouring out smoke with a harsh smell of burning organic trash and manure. Representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the county HAZMAT team and the township have been circulating at the scene as crews battle the fire.

The site produces 22,500 tons of compost a month, according to the company’s website, and says the company is one of the largest composting plants in the country, operating on 40 acres. A&M Compost did not respond to requests for comment.

Martin said the fire is still active, and they are cycling in fire truck tankers to try to extinguish it. He said he expects crews to be circulating in and out for the next few days, at least through the end of the week.

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