Wind whips up fire at Kurtz Brothers

 Messenger photos by Pat Donahue
 The massive mulch piles at the Kurtz Brothers composting facility on Rohr Road became a fiery inferno on Sept. 14.
 A lone onlooker is silhouetted against the blazing mulch piles.

An orange glow filled the night sky and smelly smoke wafted into Groveport and Madison Township as powerful winds gusting up to 75 mph helped feed a huge fire at the Kurtz Brothers composting facility on Rohr Road on Sept. 14.

"The fire started by spontaneous combustion," said Madison Township Assistant Fire Chief Bob Bates. "The mulch piles dry out, which generates heat, and the piles are so compacted it can be hard for the heat to dissipate and a fire can ignite. Once the fire started the strong winds just fanned the flames. The wind was like taking a blow torch to it. You could see the embers being blown from one pile to another."

Smoke from the fire drifted into Groveport in the late afternoon and evening raising residents’ concerns about the location of the dangerous fire. Many people walked the streets or hopped in their cars in search of the fire’s origin, which was hard to determine because of the whipping winds.

Fighting the fire

Bates said Kurtz Brothers workers used backhoes and trackhoes to spread the piles out in an effort to remove fuel for the flames and make the fire easier to battle, but the wind kept the fire alive. The Madison Township Fire Department, along with the Columbus Fire Department, arrived on the scene and attacked the blaze by pouring water down on the flames from atop ladder trucks.

"This type of fire is one you have to take your time with," said Bates. "We had to work with the wind. The wind made it difficult. It would blow the flames and spread them. Typically we can throw water 100 feet but we couldn’t even go 30 feet because the wind would blow it."

No injuries were reported as a result of the fire and the amount of damage has not been determined.

Firefighters fought the blaze for hours finally leaving the scene at 4 a.m. on Sept. 15.

"The guys (firefighters) did a great job in taking on that kind of fire in that kind of wind," said Bates. "It took a lot of time and effort."

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