Blazes in yard waste piles at Marblehead transfer station brought under control

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

Late into the night, Marblehead’s firefighters, Department of Public Works crew and contracted help continued to clear a fire that erupted around 4:30 p.m. and spread to multiple piles of yard waste at the Marblehead transfer station off Woodfin Terrace Monday, Aug. 1.

What the blaze looked like upon Marblehead Fire Department’s arrival to a transfer station on Monday, Aug. 1

Marblehead Fire Chief Jason Gilliland said the fire had already spread to multiple piles of yard waste by the time firefighters arrived on the scene.

“I just find it hard to believe it went from this pile, to that pile, to that pile,” he said.

An uncommonly dry summer likely helped fuel the blaze. Drought conditions have led to the implementation of water restrictions in many Massachusetts cities and towns, though Marblehead is not currently one of them.

Marblehead firefighters battle blaze at the transfer station on Monday, Aug. 1.

The fire was so intense it broke windows to an abutting industrial complex, Gilliland added

Gilliland said firefighters’ primary objective upon arriving was making sure the building in that industrial complex did not suffer any further damage.

While fires at the transfer station are not uncommon — during his tenure, there has been at least one every year, according to the chief — he had not seen one of this size or intensity.

Drone footage of the fire at the Marblehead transfer station. COURTESY OF ALL MARBLEHEAD

“We usually have them in the spring or summertime when we have an extended heatwave,” Gilliland said. “Usually, they start inside the pile, not outside the pile.”

All Marblehead firefighters on duty converged on the scene, with crews from Peabody and Nahant providing mutual aid, while Rehab Five responded to ensure the firefighters remained hydrated.

Online reports indicated that crews were having difficulty with low water pressure from two hydrants in the area initially, but Gilliland said that issue was quickly rectified.

Gilliland added that there were no injuries.

“We were pretty maxed out,” Gilliland said. “So, it’s good to have had Peabody and Nahant come.”

Smoke billows from a working fire at the Marblehead transfer station on Monday afternoon, Aug. 1. COURTESY PHOTO/RON OLSON

Shortly after 5 p.m., crews from the town’s Department of Public Works were called in to assist with breaking up the yard waste piles using front-end loaders, according to Gilliland.

The fires were under control by that point.

Gilliland said that the cause of the fire would continue to be investigated.

Marblehead town officials who came to the scene, including Health Director Andrew Petty, Select Board Chair Moses Grader, Water and Sewer Superintendent Amy McHugh and Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer, commended the fire department for its work.

“I’m still processing what happened, but I’m just impressed with the effort,” Grader said.

Of the firefighters, Kezer added, “This is what they do, and they did a good job of keeping this under control.”

Private contractors feed smoldering brush into a wood chipper at the Marblehead transfer station on Monday night. Photo by Will Dowd

Petty, who oversees the transfer station, could still be found on site helping firefighters and crews after 11 p.m.

“These guys will be here all night,” said Petty at 9:30 p.m., adding that he’d be there until the fire cleared.

Private contractors from Essex and Chelmsford maneuvered heavy equipment, including an industrial wood chipper, backhoe and claw crane, to tediously move, push or break up smoldering piles.

At 10:30 p.m., firefighters drenched clawful of brush after clawful of brush with water as the crane operator feed the massive chipper.

A private contractor began grinding down wood atop the Marblehead transfer station around 10:30 p.m. to extinguish the smoldering blaze. VIDEO BY WILL DOWD

“We ask neighbors to please be patient with the noise,” Gilliland said. “Our priorty right now is to extinguish the fire.”

At 11 p.m., flames could still be seen popping up on the brush and yard waste piles. The fire chief said that would happen as crews worked through piles, giving oxygen to hot spots.

Smoke engulfed the surrounding area and billowed across Salem Sound.

“People should be keeping their house closed off,” Gilliland said. “No smoke is good for you to breath.”

The yard waste area at the transfer station will be closed Tuesday, Aug. 2, and the Fire Department asked residents to avoid the transfer station, if possible.

Smoke billowed over the Marblehead transfer station and headed toward Salem Sound on Monday night. Photo by Will Dowd

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