By Dave Canton
AGAWAM — A lack of usable water is presenting difficulties for firefighters battling flames hidden in massive piles of compost at the Bondi’s Island landfill.
In its third day Saturday, the fire response involved 71 firefighters from various Western Massachusetts departments, along with as many as 20 pieces of heavy equipment and firefighting apparatus.
There is just one fire hydrant at the base of Bondi’s Island — nearly 3,000 feet from the fires — and it is attached to a smaller water main, Agawam Fire Chief Alan Sirois said Saturday afternoon.
To get more water, he said, tanker trucks are running a “bucket brigade” from a large main hydrant on Memorial Avenue in West Springfield to portable water catchments, or artificial ponds, near the entrance to Bondi’s Island. The water is then pumped 3,000 feet to the fire site.
Sirois said tens of thousands of cubic yards of composted material stored in long piles — 20 feet wide, 25 to 30 feet high and between 100 and 200 feet long — continues to burn.
The fire started Thursday afternoon. Plumes of heavy smoke blanketed much of the area between Agawam, West Springfield and Springfield, prompting officials to call for residents to close off their homes.
Heavy rain Friday helped to dissipate the smoke and knock the exposed flames down, but fire continues to smolder deep in the piles, Sirois said.
“There is a lot of compromised material that needs to be turned over, moved, wet down, then piled again,” he said. “A lot burned on Day One when high winds just swept the top and carried the fire across all the material piles.”
“We were very thankful to have the rain to cool down the operation and the burning and smoldering. But it did make work difficult for the crews because of the cold, wet environment and a lot of mud.”
As evening approached Saturday, the operation changed to fire suppression to make sure the fire does not flare up overnight. Crews will resume digging up the compost piles in the morning.
“There are a number of hand crews working with heavy equipment such as excavators, loaders, backhoes and dump trucks, as well as specialized firefighting equipment,” Sirois said. “This is very labor-intensive work and it is very dangerous work. It is simply too dangerous to work with heavy equipment at night.”
Sirois said he is pleased with the progress made Saturday and hopeful fire operations can cease within the next few days.
“We made fantastic progress today,” Sirois said. “It is my anticipation that within the next couple of days we will be winding down operations.”
The cause of the fire remains under investigation by Agawam firefighters and the state fire marshal’s office, Sirois said. Agawam Mayor William Sapelli said Friday that investigators are looking into the possibility of spontaneous combustion within the compost piles. The fire is not considered suspicious.
“I can’t say enough about the people who are working here — and working very hard. This is difficult, dirty work under difficult conditions and everyone is doing a great job.”
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