County rubbish fire expected to draw big fines|[03/25/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fire crews from Vicksburg and Warren County were still at a smoldering fire this morning along Sherman Avenue area long deemed a trouble spot for rubbish and debris.

“It’s contained,” Warren County Fire Coordinator and Environmental Officer Kelly Worthy said, adding nearby property forming the northern portions of Vicksburg National Military Park were unaffected. “It didn’t get in the woods on us.”

Reports of thick, black smoke at about 3 p.m. Monday led fire crews to a field of fully engulfed objects on private property about a half-mile past the city limits. Burning were various appliances and other construction materials — carrying a volatile mix of chemicals that fueled the blaze that was visible for miles.

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No injuries were reported.

“It appears someone was burning off tires to scrap off the rims,” Vicksburg Fire Chief Keith Rogers said, adding asphalt shingles, tires, propane tanks, butane tanks and freon tanks were in the 2- to 3-acre area.

Rogers is the county’s hazardous materials liaison for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. He said inspectors with the state agency are expected at the scene today for an assessment. “Large-scale” fines are likely, Rogers said.

The area on fire appeared to cover two sections of property owned separately, one where a house stands and another where cars have been stored for years. Both tracts are beyond city limits, where no zoning or land-use guidelines exist.

“People were just continually calling about the obstruction of the right of way,” North Ward Alderman and former District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield said, adding a familiar refrain among supervisors for years. “Our hands were tied because there’s no zoning,” Mayfield said.

Current District 2 Supervisor William Banks said the complaints have continued during his tenure, but the county’s powers have been limited to keeping the right of way cleared.

Reached this morning, Willie Green, who lives on part of the property on fire, said cars on his property are there for a commercial purpose.

“I put my cars there. I sell them,” Green said.

Green said a house affected by the fire is owned by Robert Lee Smith, who could not be reached this morning.

In Warren County, illegal dumping carries fines of up to $500, an offense enforced with less consistency than within the City of Vicksburg. Within municipal boundaries, the fine carries a $1,000 maximum and jail time.