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Mulch mountain burns around the clock along Elgin-Bartlett border

Firefighters from ElgBartlett  fight mulch fire Monday thbroke out after midnight landscaping firm along Spaulding Road near Elgin-Bartlett border.

Firefighters from Elgin and Bartlett fight a mulch fire Monday that broke out after midnight at a landscaping firm along Spaulding Road, near the Elgin-Bartlett border. February 11, 2013 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 13, 2013 6:15AM

ELGIN — One of the longest-lasting fires in recent Elgin history filled the air for a mile around with the smell of autumn leaf-burning season. But it actually was a cold wintry day as firefighters from six fire departments battled a stubborn, smoldering fire in a mountain of mulch along the Elgin-Bartlett border Monday night.

The fire first was noticed at about 11 p.m. Sunday in a pile of plant debris 30 feet high and more than 100 feet in circumference on the property of the Midwest Compost company’s Cloverleaf Farms facility, along Spaulding Road just southwest of where Metra’s Milwaukee West railroad line crosses the Canadian National (ex-Elgin, Joliet & Eastern) Railway.

The fire was still smoking heavily at nightfall Monday. Assistant Elgin Fire Chief Dave Schmidt said the battle would certainly go past the 24-hour point but he hoped it could be extinguished by daybreak Tuesday.

A half-dozen earth-moving machines owned by Midwest Compost bit into the smoldering mountain of debris and moved pieces of it to a less-flaming pile as firefighters doused the muck with water. Making their jobs tougher, winds peaking at up to 50 mph stoked the fires with extra oxygen. And lack of nearby water lines forced firefighters to fill up tank trucks from a fire hydrant along Gifford Road, a half mile to the west, then drive back to the fire scene and pump out the water into a 4,000-gallon, swimming-pool-like “Port-O-Tank,” from which the pumpers fighting the fire could draw the water back out.

“Out here you have no wind breaks, and as the hot mulch is exposed to the air, it ignites,” Schmidt said.

No injuries were reported.

Pat Murphy, the operations manager at Midwest Compost and son of the company’s owner, Charles Murphy, said the facility accepts ground-up tree pieces and yard waste from tree surgeons and cities, and stores it for use as mulch in gardens and planting areas. The facility also takes in leaves and yard waste from city pickups and landscapers, and lets that cure into compost for use as fertilizer.

It is the mulch pile that is on fire now.

Murphy noted that the Canadian National freight train derailment of October 2011 took place adjacent to the company’s lot, just a few yards away from the current fire.

Murphy said the cause of the fire is unknown but may simply have been spontaneous combustion, in which decaying plant material generates enough heat to start burning.

Elgin was being assisted by firefighters from the Bartlett, Pingree Grove, East Dundee, Rutland-Dundee, St. Charles and Fox River & Countryside fire departments, while a Salvation Army canteen provided hot food and drinks to tiring firefighters and machine operators.

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