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A fire in a large compost pile in Clairton that's been burning, on and off, since last week appears to have broken out from natural combustion, Allegheny County officials said Monday.
However, a county spokeswoman said, the pile was created by illegal dumping of debris, and the fire is having a negative impact both on the air quality in the neighborhood, as well as a nearby creek.
The property owner will be cited by the Allegheny County Health Department's Solid Waste Program for improper disposal of waste and for the conditions that led to the fire, the county said in a statement.
The Clairton Fire Department was dispatched to a site off of Worthington Avenue several times last week for what firefighters thought might be a mine fire, Allegheny County officials said.
On Friday evening, the Allegheny County Fire Marshal's Office responded to the scene to help with the investigation. They determined that a fire was smoldering deep within a large pile of debris that was illegally dumped. Officials said the combustion appears to have started naturally through decay.
The fire has caused elevated levels of carbon monoxide in the area, officials said. In addition, the water from fighting the fire is starting to run into Peters Creek and contaminate it, a county spokeswoman said.
Mayor Rich Lattanzi has signed a declaration of emergency to allow the city to hire a clean-up specialist as soon as possible, the county said.
Due to unstable ground in the area, the county said, firefighters are being forced to douse the debris pile from about 30 feet away.
The smoke levels went down and the smoldering seemed to have stopped on Friday night, the county said, but on Sunday night, the compost pile began smoldering again.
The county health department is investigating along with the state Department of Environmental Protection. The Clairton Fire Department is spraying a continuous fog of water onto the smoldering debris, which appears to be helping to limit the smoke, the county said.
The county said that the amount of visible smoke, as well as carbon monoxide levels measured in the air around the fire, have both gone back down.
Originally published July 17, 2017.