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AFD fights illegal controlled burns – One citation issued

At left, firefighter A.J. Beachy trains a hose on a smoldering junk heap as an unidentified contractor begins to spread the burning debris.

Atmore firefighters had to extinguish two separate fires on Friday (April 14), each the result of a controlled burn that was illegally set, including one that resulted in a citation.

The first blaze, reported at 12:20 p.m., sent AFD and Poarch personnel to 65 Martin Luther King Drive, where a demolition crew had been tearing down a house and burning the debris a few yards away. A wind gust apparently sent embers from the burn pile into the still-standing portion of the structure, sparking a fire that effectively destroyed it.

“They were tearing the house down, and they were burning too close,” said Fire Chief Ron Peebles. “That’s what caused the house to catch fire.”
Tar paper shingles and wooden siding caused the flames to become hot enough to melt much of the siding of 63 MLK, which is occupied and sits just a few feet from the burning structure. Firefighters poured water onto the structural remains for more than 90 minutes before declaring that the threat of further fire had been eliminated.

City of Atmore Municipal Court Magistrate Van Hughes confirmed Tuesday that the unnamed individual in charge of the demolition was cited for violation of a city ordinance that outlaws outdoor burns within 100 feet of a building, structure, fence or other combustible material or object.

The second burn was reported five hours later, at 5:22 p.m., in an otherwise vacant North Main Street lot that is used for amassing construction and mobile home debris.

An out-of-town contractor, apparently unaware of city statutes against burning such items, set fire to a pile of wood and other materials from the demolition of the former Apple Barrel, which is located on North Main at the end of Howard Street.

Thick, black smoke poured from the blaze, which had burned beneath the debris pile and prevented full extinguishment. The contractor employed a track hoe to spread the pile, and firefighters were able to quell the flames in less than an hour.

“There was wood, vinyl siding, tires, you name it, in that pile,” said Peebles, who recalled a similar fire in that same lot several years ago. “There was no citation because the contractor helped us. That saved us. If he hadn’t done that, we would have had to tear it apart by hand, and we would have been there a long time, just like the last time.”

As it was, firefighters had to pump 4,000 gallons of water onto the smoldering heap before finally getting the fire under control. They exhausted the supply from three fire engines and used most of the supply from a fourth before the situation stabilized.

“People need to be aware of the city ordinances, and they need to use common sense when they’re going to burn something,” Peebles said.