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Tire wall fire prompts El Paso County to consider rescinding waiver

April 11, 2018 Updated: April 12, 2018 at 10:45 am
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Black smoke from the Carson Midway wildfire billows behind homes visible just past the Pikes Peak International Raceway on Friday March 16, 2018 just outside of Fountain. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

El Paso County may discontinue letting property owners avoid code violations by building fences and walls out of old tires instead of having to dispose of them.

During a Wednesday work session, county commissioners recommended the Planning Department change its policies so that residents can no longer apply for these arrangements, known as beneficial use agreements.

The move comes less than a month after a fence made of hundreds of tires caught fire during the 3,300-acre Carson Midway blaze in southern El Paso County.

The county needed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's help to put out the so-called "tire fire," which released chemical-laden smoke and sparked fears that waste tires on rural properties in the county would create health hazards if they catch on fire in the future.

"It comes out to just being not only a public health issue, but a firefighter issue, a first-responder issue, if they ever catch on fire," said Hanover Fire Protection District Chief Carl Tatum, who was heavily involved in fighting the recent tire fire.

Burning tires can produce runoff oil and can contaminate the air with pollution, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene and styrene emissions, according to the EPA's website. Large-scale tire fires can be difficult to extinguish and have been known to burn for more than a month.

But disallowing the beneficial use agreements, which only a few county residents have applied for in recent years, is just one step in clearing privately-owned land that's become a cache for old tires.

Mindy Madden, the county's code enforcement supervisor, said she knows of about 50 properties in the county where anywhere from a dozen to hundreds of tires are stored.

Tires often cost about $5 to dispose of, Madden said. Some property owners have accumulated tires because they will allow others to dump them on their properties at a reduced price, she said.

But the county's code enforcement unit typically doesn't check for violations unless someone complains about the property, said Madden, who oversees a staff of three code enforcement officers.

"It comes down to we don't have time to be proactive," she said.

Property owners applying for beneficial use agreements are given a year to construct an approved structure, such as a fence or wall, from the tires littering their land. The arrangement requires that the tires are anchored, maintained and covered with dirt or stucco.

The Planning Commission, then the Board of County Commissioners, will have to formally vote to remove the beneficial use option, Madden said.

"I don't think we need to give people any exemptions or any options to do anything that's environmentally damaging to our county," Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr. said during the work session.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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