Tim Cavender, public information officer with the Cherokee County Fire Department, said the organic materials in the pile generated enough heat to start a fire Saturday.
“The temperature will raise until there’s a spontaneous ignition,” he said. “We’ve been out there a few times with some spots of smoke coming out, and we decided to let it burn itself out.”
Firefighters treated the fire as a controlled burn and remained on scene at the county-owned facility from 8 p.m. Saturday until Monday night.
“The fire created quite a sight,” Cavender said.
The burned materials included mulch and wood pallets, said County Manager Jerry Cooper.
Cooper said there was no damage to the facility, and he does not anticipate the site needing a cleanup from the fire. He credited concrete firewalls at the facility for helping prevent damage.
Cherokee County Fire Chief Tim Prather said the only property that was in danger of damage from the fire was equipment at the site.
“We’ve been protecting all of the equipment there since Saturday night. My first priority is not to get anybody hurt on that property,” he said.
Prather added that firefighters have been watching the embers, and passers-by may continue to see smoke from the mulch pile.
The recycling center has not been operational since former operator Jimmy Bobo vacated the property after filing for bankruptcy in May.
The county is in the process of looking for another operator while trying to recoup some of the debt incurred when Bobo stopped paying on his $100,000 per month lease agreement.
County Commissioner Harry Johnston said the county had determined that the materials burned in the fire did not have any monetary value.
“While it’s not the ideal solution, the result is a fairly economical way to dispose of it,” he said.