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Fire chief asks state for more resources as landfill blaze now burns into its fourth day

The fire at the Rice County Sanitary Landfill started on Monday and is about the size of a football field and burning 30 feet deep.

RICE COUNTY, Minn. — A fire is still burning four days after it first started Monday afternoon at the Rice County Sanitary Landfill, and one local fire chief is asking the state for more resources.

Tom Nelson, who is the fire chief/fire code official with the Northfield Fire & Rescue Services, is requesting emergency response mutual aid while a landfill in Dundas, which is about an hour south of the Twin Cities, continues to burn.

The fire is making the already hazy skies even worse and fire officials aren't sure what started it or how to put it out.

People who live nearby say that's concerning and they're frustrated by the lack of communication from state and local leaders. They're crediting Sen. Bill Lieske with getting them some of the help they need moving forward.

"It was like there was a fog here," said Claudine Barbetti. "And the burning plastic smell, you could feel it in your lungs when you breathed the air." 

Barbetti is especially concerned about the ash that's falling and whether it's harmful to humans, as well as livestock and the soil farmers are now plowing. 

"They need to let us know what is going on with the statuses and what the plan is, because if they have a plan, we don't know it," said Barbetti. 

Local fire chiefs on scene told KARE 11, while they're making progress, they need more resources and better guidance to best fight the fire.  

Faribault Fire Chief Dustin Dienst says the fire is burning some 30-feet deep, and while water will help, he says it's mostly a waiting game until there's so little oxygen that the fire puts itself out.

Chief Dienst also acknowledged fires like this are rare and that is partly why there's not a more robust plan of action to fight it. However, he says that doesn't mean they're not consistently working on putting it out. 

"The fact that there's a lot of smoke and not flashing lights and firefighters and water flowing all over doesn't mean we are not doing anything," said Chief Dienst. "We are definitely open to anybody that would have some experience in helping us as a county and fire departments take care of this."

He doesn't know what started the fire and is asking people to be patient, while also keeping their doors and windows shut and staying inside if possible, admitting they may have to take even more action sooner than later.

"There could be a point where we have to try and get this to go away, we can't wait for days or weeks," said Chief Dienst. 

In a statement, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said that it's aware of the fire at the landfill, writing: "We are monitoring the situation and advising local officials. This facility is required to follow their emergency response plan and contingency action plan when there is an incident like a fire."

The MPCA then advised KARE 11 to contact the Rice County Environmental Services Director Julie Runkel with more questions regarding this incident. 

Other residents expressed concern Rice County is not following its emergency response plan, nor has it set up an incident command structure. They want to make sure Rice County is asking for the right resources it needs from other agencies, if necessary, to find a solution. 

KARE 11 reached out to Runkel for comment several times Wednesday and never heard back. 

The landfill, including the Solid Waste Facility, remains closed to non-licensed haulers on May 25. 

County officials said Tim's Trucking is available to accept demolition debris while the landfill is closed and can be reached at 507-685-2222. 

"We are still in the active response phase related to Monday night’s landfill fire and need to remain closed for the safety of the public and our employees as we continue our work on reducing smoldering debris," the county added. 

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