As firefighters struggled throughout yesterday to put out a stubborn fire at the Hawaiian Waste Systems baling facility at Campbell Industrial Park, city officials began to weigh the future of the facility and what remains of about 10,000 tons of trash that had been festering there since at least March.
The two-alarm fire at 91-236 Oihana St. was reported at about 1:30 a.m. and brought under control at about 4 a.m. But the fire continued to smolder and occasionally reignite until late in the evening, when it was declared extinguished.
The facility has been controversial the past several years. Hawaiian Waste had used it to bale municipal trash and place it in containers that were supposed to be shipped to the mainland under a city contract.
But the Washington-based company failed to secure the federal permits necessary to ship the waste, and an estimated 20,000 tons accumulated from September 2009 to March at the facility and, when that became full, two other sites in Kalaeloa.
Firefighters wanted to separate the compacted trash yesterday to make it easier to put out the embers, said Capt. Terry Seelig, spokesman for the Honolulu Fire Department.
But the back wall of the warehouse began to buckle and was in danger of collapsing, and city building officials advised firefighters not to enter the building, which is about 150 by 75 feet.
At about 2 p.m., Hawaiian Waste took in a heavy-duty excavator to separate the smoldering trash and pull sections out for firefighters to douse with water and foam, Seelig said.
Seelig said it was too early to say how the fire started. Investigators will look at spontaneous combustion, electrical, accidental and other potential causes.
State Deputy Health Director Gary Gill, who surveyed the scene, said preliminary air samples indicated only low levels of contaminants caused by the fire. The Health Department was to take additional samples, he said.
That was of little comfort to Clayton Takamoto and James Smith, whose businesses abut Hawaiian Waste, immediately downwind of the fire.
Takamoto, owner of Pacific Custom Boat Building & Repairs, said the fire did not surprise him.
"When you have rubbish … sooner or later you’re going to have a fire, just like at the dump," he said. "But (the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill) is way out in the boonies."
Smith, owner of STS 808, which customizes cars, said the fire came on top of the day-to-day odors, insects and other headaches from the neighboring trash company.
"We’ve learned to live with it," he said as he eyed a wall near his shop that firefighters warned could collapse.
Hawaiian Waste signed a three-year contract with the city to ship plastic-wrapped bales of garbage to Washington state. But the city and the company reached an agreement in August to scrap the contract after the company failed to get federal permits and a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the plan.
As part of the agreement, the city is to pay Hawaiian Waste Systems $39 a ton to use the company’s shredder to shred large pieces of garbage, such as mattresses and furniture, so that it can be burned at HPOWER. The city also waived an estimated $1 million in refuse tipping fees it would normally charge to burn the rubbish.
Tim Steinberger, city environmental services director, said about 10,000 tons have been removed, most of it to the city’s waste-to-energy HPOWER facility. Mattresses were among the items not accepted at HPOWER, and because a policy limits the amount of mattresses being placed into the landfill, there was a stockpile of an unknown member of mattresses in the Hawaiian Waste facility at the time of the fire, he said.
City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said she wants to introduce legislation urging Mayor Peter Carlisle to sever ties with Hawaiian Waste immediately, a plan backed by Hawaiian Waste critic Carroll Cox of the watchdog group EnviroWatch.
Kobayashi said she also wants the city to consider assisting neighboring businesses in some way.
Steinberger said it was too soon to determine the next step at the troubled facility.
The Health Department fined the company last year for failing to inform the agency that it was storing trash at two additional sites.