Advertisement

Farm Cited Over Air Pollution in Manure Blaze : Ventura: Acrid smoke fills the sky after material bursts into flame. A United Foods official says combustion isn’t unusual.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County officials cited the United Foods mushroom farm in Ventura for violating air pollution laws Thursday after a huge mound of manure burst into flame and filled the air with thick, acrid smoke.

No one was injured in the fire. But Al Danzig, enforcement manager of the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District, said the farm’s operators could be subject to fines of $5,000 to $25,000 if inspectors rule that they negligently or intentionally started it.

But farm manager Ruben Franco said it is not uncommon for the manure mixture to catch fire on its own when heat builds up during natural decomposition.

For nearly three hours, Ventura firefighters poured more than 1,000 gallons of water per minute onto the 12-foot-high, 10,000-square-foot pile of manure and straw, which is used for fertilizer at the farm on Olivas Park Drive.

Advertisement

Farm workers using skip-loaders cut a firebreak around the burning manure to prevent fire from spreading to much larger piles of the mixture nearby, said Barry Simmons, a Ventura Fire Department spokesman.

Once the firebreak was in place, firefighters left the blaze to burn itself out, Simmons said.

But the thick smoke drew the attention of county pollution officials, who issued a citation against the farm.

“The smoke was what we call 100% dense during the time our inspector was there,” Danzig said. “You’re allowed 40%. No doubt it was excessive.

Advertisement

“We’re just going to let it burn,” he said as smoke and flame rolled slowly off the manure pile late Thursday morning.

A front-end loader slid off an earthen berm and onto its side Thursday morning as a worker tried to dump dirt on top of the flaming manure to smother it. Farm workers using other front-end loaders struggled to free the machine, but finally called in a large tow truck to finish the job, Franco said. There were no injuries.

By Thursday late afternoon, the fire was mostly out, Franco said.

Simmons said Fire Department officials contemplated billing United Foods for the 200,000 to 300,000 gallons of water used to knock down the fire.

Advertisement

The department is growing weary of dousing blazes such as the one on Thursday, which was the eighth manure fire there in 10 years, Simmons said.

“It’s become kind of a nuisance, and we pour an absolute ton of water on these things,” Simmons said. “I’m not talking a little bit of water, I’m talking 1,000 gallons a minute from one nozzle, and oftentimes we have two or three nozzles on the scene.”

However, Franco said there have been no other manure fires in his seven years at the mushroom farm, only a solvent fire last year that severely burned a man when the floor adhesive that he was using ignited as he was refinishing an office.

“If they charge us, we’d probably have to fight that,” Franco said. “If we were starting the fire, I’d say we were responsible. But we’re not. Those things happen.”

Advertisement

Simmons said Fire Chief Vern Hamilton had the final word. “He said, ‘We’re not going to charge anybody to put out a fire,’ ” Simmons said. “That’s about as definite an answer as you can get.”


Advertisement
Advertisement