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Mulch fire burns near 3 east valley schools; causes air quality concern for parents, students

A smoky, stinky mulch fire continued to burn Monday night at an east valley recycling facility causing air quality concerns for parents and students at 3 schools nearby.

A plume of white smoke was seen billowing into the air after the fire broke out early Monday morning in a 150- by 250-foot pile of mulch at Sun Valley Recycling Center off Avenue 66 in Thermal.

Three high schools are just up the street: Las Palmitas Elementary School, Toro Canyon Middle School and Desert Mirage High School. The fire is causing concern about toxic fumes in the air for parents and students.

“It’s air we need air to breathe,” said Juan Moreno, a CVUSD parent picking up his son from school Monday afternoon. He worries about what is in the smoke that his kids could be breathing. “Definitely there’s a concern because the air quality, of course. We breathe air, we need to breathe air every day, every moment, if not we can die.”

The mulch pile, which is on the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation, caught fire earlier this year. At the time, Congressman Raul Ruiz warned of poor air quality – a worry for tribal chairman Thomas Tortez Jr., too.

“Our concern is that the continuous fire and the smoke gets to the school,” Tortez said.

He said the tribe has been trying to shut down the recycling facility, but the owner has fallen unresponsive.

“If they can’t take care of the fires, which, evidently they can’t, then we need to protect the children, and we need them protected as soon as possible,” Tortez said.

Meantime, parents hope they can work something out.

“It’s hard for me to say, ‘Oh, I want them to shut down,’ because there are people working there who have families and have to feed them – they make a living out of it,” said Moreno. “But at the same time, there is a concern for many kids.

A manager for the recycling facility said the cause of the fire is still under investigation but appears suspicious. They expect it to be put it within a few days.

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