July 19, 2005
Plumes of black smoke visible for miles billowed Tuesday
from a fire at a tire recycling plant near Watertown that
officials said had as many as 1 million tires, five times
the number it is allowed.
The massive blaze - something state regulators and concerned
neighbors had warned could happen - began at 9:58 a.m. at
Watertown Tire Recyclers when a piece of equipment used
to move tires around the plant malfunctioned, Watertown
Mayor John David said during a news conference near the
plant. More than 120 firefighters from 14 departments fought
the blaze, a task complicated by having to truck in water
from a hydrant 1 1/2 miles away.
"I can't tell you how many millions of gallons of
water they're throwing on it," David said. "But
it's not doing a heck of a lot of good."
The foul scent of burning tires wafted with the smoke and
could be smelled as far away as Jefferson, 18 miles away.
The smoke, thick and black at the ground, rose hundreds
of feet into the air and could be seen as far away as Beloit
and Milwaukee, according to reports. The blaze, which officials
said will burn for at least three more days and could continue
for up to a week, destroyed the tire plant and an adjacent
home, which the plant's owner, Thomas Springer, owns but
did not occupy.
Neighbors and government regulators had issued warnings
about the size of the operation, which by some estimates
was several times larger than the 200,000 tires allowed
by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Joseph Brusca, the DNR's air and waste regional leader,
said the plant had accumulated 500,000 tires by last November.
Jennifer Warmke, the deputy director of the Dodge County
emergency management agency, said Tuesday that the plant
had more than 1 million tires.
Brusca said state officials urged Springer to reduce the
stockpile and had taken enforcement action against him -
a process that was still under way Tuesday. A state inspector,
Barbara Palecek, was inside the plant conducting a follow-up
investigation when the fire started.
In May, a group of 10 neighbors filed suit against the
company in Dodge County, asking a judge to order the recycling
business to comply with its state permit. The suit warned
that the massive tire inventory was "creating hazards
and increasing the potential for a fire."
Springer's attorney, Vicki Zick, acknowledged that the
company had exceeded the limits of its state permit but
said the operation has been under industry pressure to accept
used tires. Springer couldn't be reached Tuesday.
"This is not just a bad citizen not minding the store,"
Zick said. "This is a company providing a necessary