Compost Fire Burns For Hours In Speonk

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A smoldering compost fire in Speonk drew responders from about 15 agencies and shut down traffic on Speonk-Riverhead Road between 1 and 4 p.m. last Wednesday, June 26.

The fire started in a pile of dry leaves on the grounds of Speonk Earth Recycling, a mulch and compost business located at 60 Fifth Avenue in Speonk, just off Speonk-Riverhead Road, for still-unknown reasons, Eastport Fire Chief Ryan King said.

Chief King estimated the pile to be about 50 feet high, 100 feet long and 30 feet wide. The flames did not spread elsewhere on the property, located on the east side of the road.

The Southampton Town fire marshal’s office is still investigating the blaze. No injuries were reported.

Mulch and compost fires are not uncommon during the summer months, however. Similar fires in recent years included a mulch fire at the same Speonk business in 2011, and three fires at the nearby Hampton Sand Corporation—located on the opposite side of Speonk-Riverhead Road—between April and May 2012, according to Southampton Fire Marshal John Rankin.

As certain organic material decomposes, flammable gases are produced. When the materials pile up, the gases become trapped inside, leaving the piles more prone to igniting.

Speonk Earth Recycling owner Alex Porto said this week that his crew monitors the piles of debris for smoke, and if some is spotted, either he or one of his employees will call the Eastport Fire Department to give them the heads-up while his workers attempt to knock down the flames. If the fire cannot be handled in-house, a second call goes out and first-responders are dispatched.

“We’re very diligent in watching, normally, but I guess we just missed it this time, or maybe somebody flicked a cigarette,” Mr. Porto said. “It’s just that simple—anything could start it. Who knows what happened.”

Because the fire, which was called in at around 1 p.m., was contained to just the one pile of leaves, there was no damage to the buildings on the property or the other recycled material, Mr. Porto said.

He added that the dry weather and high temperatures on the day of the fire most likely contributed to the outburst. “When you get heat like this, it just can’t cool itself,” he said.

Dozens of fire trucks, two aerial trucks and 12 tankers, including those from the Eastport, Westhampton Beach, Flanders, Manorville and Hampton Bays, responded to the scene and set up posts at the north and south ends of the approximately nine-acre property, Chief King said. The road, which reopened around 4 p.m., was blocked off to protect the public and keep the road clear for police and fire vehicles traveling between the outposts, he added.

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