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Fire at waste site near Box Elder almost contained

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Firefighters hoped to have a lingering, smoky blaze at a construction debris waste site near Box Elder controlled by Thursday morning.

The fire had been burning at the Windy Flats Rubble Site — located about 12 miles north of Box Elder — since late Sunday.

Inspectors had been working with the operator of the rubble site to get the fire under control since Monday morning, said Jim Wendte, engineering manager in the South Dakota Department of Environmental and Natural Resources' waste management program.

“We’re cautiously optimistic it’s not going to go on much longer,” Wendte said Wednesday afternoon.

Wendte described the facility as an inert waste landfill for disposal of construction and demolition debris. Rubber tires are also accepted at the facility, but are stored away from the area of the fire. 

Wendte said smoke from burning construction materials, including some asphalt roofing shingles, was being carried by the prevailing winds. That smoke, heavy at times, prompted complaints from residents downwind of the rubble site.

Monday night’s near- or below-freezing temperatures helped hold the smoke close to the ground. “Obviously we can’t discount certain things, but the primary irritant is going to be the smoke,” he said.

Wendte said the rubble site operator didn't detect any signs of smoke or fire while checking the site Sunday morning.

The fire broke out sometime late Sunday. While a cause hasn’t been determined, it’s not uncommon for other waste products, including hot ashes, to be brought into the rubble site, Wendte said.

“It might sit and smolder for a while and eventually kick up some flames,” he said. “There’s no way to know what caused it, only that it was unintentional and accidental.”

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