• Residents complain of headaches amid underground mulch fire


    CLAIRTON, Pa. - People in the city of Clairton have been complaining about the smell of fire, and officials said the source is a bit unusual.

    Fire Chief Joe Lazur told Channel 11 News that the department started getting calls Thursday night about smoke filling the air and the smell of fire around the city. He said it’s coming from a large mulch pile that’s burning underground.

    On Friday night, the Fire Department got elevated CO levels near homes close to the fire. But since then, Allegheny County says watering the pile has reduced those levels.


    Lazur said a business dumped grass clippings and mulch in a gated area on Worthington Avenue for six years. The decomposing pile created heat and eventually caught fire.

    "Imagine that heat, 70-foot pile," Lazur said. "It continues to build up and build up, you find a nice, dry material, and it starts."

    Neighbors told Channel 11 they noticed it over a week ago.

    Lazur said he doesn’t hold the owner of the land responsible. “As far as dumping here over the years, that's something that will have to be addressed over the years,” he said.

    The land belongs to Foxes Worm Farm. The owner said his compost pile is not on fire and that land collapsed after a storm about 10 days ago. He noticed some smoke, so he put dirt on it.

    Crews put water on the pile for four hours Friday, but it made the fire worse, Lazur said. Their efforts pushed more air into the pile, which fed the fire.


    The Allegheny County Health Department said air quality is not a concern. A violation notice was issued for improper disposal of waste and the fire.

    People outside were wearing masks over their mouths.

    "We are getting headaches from the smell, sickness. I'm going to get my house tested for sure," neighbor Wesley Dixon said.

    No one is in danger, officials say, but if anyone begins having problems breathing they should call an ambulance. Lazur said the Fire Department will do a reading in anyone's house and it will find a place for people to stay if the smoke gets unbearable.



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