Inspector finds 'oily waste' at site of industrial fire

Monday's blaze at trucking company took 58 firefighters nearly 9 hours to suppress

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
San Juan County firefighters responded to a fire at CBH Trucking and Salvage near the intersection of County Road 5470 and 5467 east of Farmington on Monday.
  • A man using a cutting torch to dismantle a tank started Monday's fire.
  • Officials from the state and the county toured the fire site this week.
  • No local governments are issuing burn permits because of the dry and dangerous conditions.

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Environment Department found two tanks had small leaks of "oily waste" at the site of an industrial blaze earlier this week.

That finding came when a department representative visited the site on Thursday with a county official in the wake of Monday's fire. Their tour comes as dry and dangerous conditions across the county have caused an increase in brush/grass fires that have threatened residences and structures, according to county and city fire chiefs.

Monday's fire at CBH Trucking and Salvage east of Farmington and south of U.S. Highway 64 took 58 firefighters more than eight and a half hours to suppress, San Juan County Fire Chief Craig Daughtery said.

It was one of 200 fire calls the San Juan County Fire Department responded to between June 1 and Tuesday. Daughtery said a majority of the fires have been caused by people burning weeds or lighting fireworks.

The CBH Trucking and Salvage fire at 5615 U.S. Highway 64 was caused by a cutting torch igniting a nearby tree while its user was dismantling a tank, according to a copy of a report by the NMED Hazardous Waste Bureau.

More:Family concerned about response time to brush fire

When reached for comment, a man who answered the phone at CBH Trucking and Salvage hung up the phone while speaking to The Daily Times.

San Juan County CEO Kim Carpenter toured the site Wednesday behind the business that runs along County Road 5467. Carpenter said the NMED has jurisdiction to conduct an inspection at any site in the county where hazardous materials are stored.

The county has an ordinance that requires businesses to report possibly hazardous materials in case firefighters respond to a fire.

More:County Commission discusses Ordinance 95

That measure was put in place to keep firefighters safe and ensure the safety of residents living around a business, Carpenter said.

Daughtery said the county's community development division has previously inspected the site. A member of the NMED Hazardous Waste Bureau toured the site with Daughtery on Thursday.

Carpenter said he was trying to figure out why a lot of black smoke was released as part of the blaze. He visited the site after speaking to Daughtery, who told him he had concerns about some of the tanks on the property leaking.

The NMED inspector found two intact tanks appeared to have leaked a small amount of "oily waste," according to the report. 

According to property owner Kennard Tsosie, the area were a brush fire started on Tuesday, June 20 2017, is seen the following day, Wednesday, at his property along County Road 7010, south of Farmington.

Some of the tanks that caught fire also contained miscellaneous items stored inside of them, Daugherty said. Wood pallets and tires were also destroyed in the fire. At one point, an excavator was used to access portions of the fire.

The owners of the business, Carl and Bob Huish, agreed to clean up the burned debris and take soil samples to determine if the area where the fire occurred, along with the area under the two tanks, was contaminated, the report states.

They also agreed to remove tires from their rims, to properly dispose of the tires and recycle the metal rims.

The NMED Hazardous Waste Bureau did not find any hazardous waste violations at the site or at another location managed by CBH Trucking and Salvage during inspections within the last five years, according to the report.

Chris Cardin, county fire marshal and division chief, said people using an open flame or grinder should keep a water source or fire extinguisher nearby in case a spark causes a fire. Residents should also clear away any brush or cotton near any flammable source.

The conditions around San Juan County are so dry, even residents who take precautions sometimes unintentionally start brush fires.

Bloomfield Fire Chief John Mohler said a June 29 fire near San De Cristo Court was started after a piece of cotton from a cottonwood tree flew by a woman using a propane grill and ignited, landing in some nearby weeds.

Mohler said the area around the grill was bare with no grass. The burning cotton landed in nearby weeds and the blaze then spread into an arroyo.

"I think it's a perfect example of how dry and dangerous it is," Mohler said. "Even if you take all the precautions, it takes one thing of nature to change that."

One brush fire in Farmington under investigation may have been started by someone using a weed trimmer, according to Farmington Deputy Fire Chief David Burke.

Aztec, Bloomfield, Farmington and San Juan County are not issuing burn permits because of the dry conditions.

It could take a series of storms to have an impact on the dry conditions around the area, Burke said.

"We're kind of at the mercy of Mother Nature," Burke said. "As soon as we get moisture in here, we hope we can ease the burning restriction."

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.