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Fire officials discuss why mulch fires are difficult to put out

A 32-acre mulch fire burning near Thermal has produced a lot of smoke into the valley since it first ignited on Oct. 14.

A report from the Environmental Protection Agency reveals that there is no evidence that the fire emitting dangerous or toxic materials. However, schools nearby had over a dozen students hospitalized due to poor air quality. The Coachella Valley Unified School District schools and offices have been closed since Friday out of concern of the air quality.

Many have been asking why crews haven’t just stopped the smoke coming out of the fire. Captain Fernando Herrera of the Riverside County Fire Department says putting out this fire has been no easy task.

“A lot of heavy equip is needed to break the large pile that’s basically 32 acres in size and roughly 20-25 feet high,” Herrera said. “Taking sections of huge mulch pile breaking it apart using heavy equip, then transport into open area and spread it onto the surface and use water trucks completely to saturate it.”

The fire, burning at a recycling center known for numerous fires this year, is still only 50% contained.

“When you have green waste compile like that, you will have these types of fires. They gather a lot of heat internally and combust rapidly, all of a sudden,” Herrera said.

Fire crews have been working round the clock. Meanwhile, some parents and students affected by school closures believe it’s time to go return to class.

“I don’t think I should be at home. I think I should be studying at school,” one student said.

Raquel Leon, a local parent, says while she believes kids need to go back to school now, she is glad class was cancelled when the smoke was at its peak.

“Just be patient. We are trying to fully contain this that’s going to take time. It’s something that we can’t simply put out overnight,” Herrera said.

Fire officials told News Channel 3 that the Bureau of Indian Affairs is expecting to have the fire fully contained by Friday. CVUSD students are expected to return to school the same day.


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KESQ News Team


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