Marblehead officials suspect transfer station blaze was set intentionally

Marblehead public safety officials suspect someone intentionally ignited the fire that spread to several large piles of yard waste at the transfer station off Woodfin Terrace Aug. 1. Officials estimate the hours-long response and overnight cleanup cost $65,000.

“It is suspected that the fire was set,” Fire Chief Jason Gilliland told the Marblehead News, adding that Sgt. Sean Brady and Capt. Eric Ridge are conducting the criminal] investigation.

Marblehead firefighters battle blaze at the transfer station on Monday, Aug. 1. [STAFF PHOTO / WILL DOWD]

Gilliland said the fire had already spread to multiple piles of yard waste by the time firefighters arrived on scene, which he immediately found suspicious.

“I just find it hard to believe it went from this pile, to that pile, to that pile,” he said as firefighters put water on the blaze. “Usually, they start inside the pile, not outside the pile.”

Marblehead Public Health Director Andrew Petty said no security cameras were monitoring the yard-waste area directly on Aug. 1, but he noted a plan to install cameras had been in the works, even before the blaze.

“Cameras will be installed,” Petty said.

Piles of charred stumps and brush atop the Marblehead transfer station on Wednesday, Aug. 17. [STAFF PHOTO / WILL DOWD]

The piles – leaves, saw dust, wood chips, tree stumps and branches during a heat wave – were ready-made for an inferno.

While no one was injured, the fire’s intensity broke windows at an abutting industrial complex. It also spread to the dry grass that frames the yard-waste areas. Smoke engulfed the surrounding area and billowed across Salem Sound.

Once firefighters got the blaze under control, the response transitioned to monitoring hot spots, putting water on small fires as they broke out and separating piles. Workers from the Marblehead Department of Public Works were called in to assist by breaking up the yard-waste piles using front-end loaders.

Petty and Gilliland jointly decided to contract Mayer Tree Service to truck in even more heavy equipment, including an industrial wood chipper.

“They made it three-quarters of the way through the smoldering piles of brush and chips, before the feed belt on the tube grinder failed due to the extreme heat of the still-burning material,” Gilliland wrote in his incident report.

Piles of charred stumps and brush atop the Marblehead transfer station on Wednesday, Aug. 17. [PHOTO/ WILL DOWD]

Petty said, “We were working all night long until 7 a.m. the next day,” noting that the transfer station remained closed on Tuesday but had opened back up by Wednesday.

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