McCOOK – Residents of McCook and Lyons who have complained in recent months about the smell and smoke from a mulch fire at the McCook-based yard of Perfect Mulch, 5300 S. Lawndale, can now breathe easier.
According to McCook Fire Chief Joe Myrick, the fire was fully extinguished March 13.
The fire, which started when a pile of mulch at the yard spontaneously combusted, frustrated residents who said their homes were filled with a smokey smell and were concerned about the safety of breathing in the smoke day after day.
Myrick said the department did everything it could to put the fire out quickly, but were significantly hindered by the season's particularly cold and snowy weather. Additionally, the mulch pile that caught fire was located in a distant spot in the yard far from the main entrance, making it difficult for firefighters to initially get access.
Residents in the area might have noticed increased smoke around the time the fire was finally extinguished, as crews began removing piles of the burnt mulch, Myrick said.
Myrick said he continues to monitor the situation daily, and the village is working with the company and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) to make sure it doesn't happen again. Part of that process involves requiring perfect mulch to store their mulch in smaller piles and in concrete boxes that would make it easier to manage another fire in the future. The company was also told to no longer store items it couldn't immediately turn to mulch, such as tree stumps.
According to Kim Biggs with the IEPA Bureau Chief's Office, the agency has sent a violation notice to Perfect Mulch, which begins a timeline for the company to come into compliance with any regulations. No fines have been issued against the company, Biggs said, although the possibility remains on the table. The violation notice serves mostly to give the company a timeframe to make any changes. IEPA officials will next meet with the company in April, she said.
"Currently we are working with the company to ensure the fire is out and looking at plans to prevent such an incident from happening again," Biggs said.
Chief Myrick sent a letter to Perfect Mulch March 14 outlining regulations the company will have to follow to continue doing business in McCook. The requirements include monitoring the interior temperature of the mulch piles with a thermometer to alert the company if the heat becomes enough to ignite the fire, the mulch must have a hard surface beneath it before the product can be put on the ground, and barricades must be put around the mulch, which cannot be stacked higher than the barricades.
Perfect Mulch is currently in the process of removing any burnt materials from the lot and are not allowed to bring any new materials in. McCook Mayor Jeff Tobolski said the company is not allowed to do business in the village until it comes into full compliance.
Perfect Mulch owner Frank Fabiano was not available for comment. A company spokeswoman said he would be out of town for two weeks.