TREVORTON — Preparations are in place to start dumping 500,000 gallons of water a day onto the fire burning in an abandoned mine atop Big Mountain immediately south of Trevorton, adding to more than 1.6 million gallons of water that have been applied since the fire was first reported on April 24, according to state and local officials.
At the Zerbe Township Board of Supervisors’ public meeting on Monday, Trevorton Fire Assistant Chief and Emergency Management Director Christina Ramer informed the supervisors and members of the public that 1,614,000 gallons of water have been applied by the contractor Tri-County Spreading as of Sunday night. Megan Lehman, the state Department of Environmental Protection’s environmental community relations specialist, Williamsport, also confirmed these numbers on Monday.
“They’re dumping about 320,000 gallons a day, but that will change as of tomorrow,” said Ramer. “We now have a 15,000-gallon tanker up there that was brought in today. We should be around 500,000 gallons a day. Efforts of Trevorton Fire Company and the contractor have achieved notable results. We are seeing barely any smoke and barely any steam like we had been seeing.”
The mass dumping will continue for at least three to four weeks, said Ramer.
The fire was first reported on April 24. Both the cause of the fire and the associated illegal dumping are under investigation. The parcel of land is owned by Northumberland County, leased by the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area, and isn’t currently permitted for mining.
DEP and first responders theorized potentially thousands of used tires and other waste discarded illegally into the mine opening caught fire and also presumed coal caught fire hundreds of feet below the surface.
Lehman said the carbon monoxide (CO) levels read at the site continue to be very low and have been trending downward. Ramer also provided comments to the supervisors on this subject.
“There is barely any CO traces in the air at all,” said Ramer. “The highest level they got was a six and that was just at one point. At any other point, it’s barely reading.”
DEP will accept bids by next week for a contractor to drill boreholes at the site. They will be used for temperature monitoring, evaluating subsurface conditions, monitoring the escape of smoke and water vapor and pinpointing the fire’s location, said Lehman.
“Contractors will be on-site this week to evaluate the site conditions and job requirements,” she said. “Contractors are required to submit bids by next Monday. The borehole work is anticipated to start later next week.”
If the current plan does not work, officials said the next step is to use PFAS-free firefighting foam or inert gas. PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances that can be found in certain firefighting foams. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, exposure to PFAS can cause negative health effects like a risk of thyroid disease and testicular, kidney and bladder cancers.
Those two options are more costly and more technical, officials said.
Zerbe Township Board Chairman Michael Schwartz expressed the board’s “sincere appreciation” to Ramer, Chief Ed Reed and the other Trevorton Fire Company members for their “diligence and persistence” in dealing with the pit fire. They also plan to send a letter of appreciation to local resident Bobby Burns for allowing his equipment to be used as well.
“We really appreciate all your efforts,” said Schwartz. “We thank you.”