Settlement reached in decade-old tire fire

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It’s been nearly 12 years since a tire fire was accidentally set near the edge of Socorro and a settlement over the incident has finally been reached.

The settlement was reached between Southwest Tire Processors and the New Mexico Environment Department, and calls for more than $119,000 in civil penalties and the engineering of a cap to be constructed over the site of the fire to prevent groundwater contamination.

On June 17, 2000, the fire started at a tire recycling facility that was located on a 20-30 acre piece of city owned land leased to STP and owned by Moises Romero, Fabian Romero and Jeanne Romero Gacanich. It was reportedly the result of serious operational violations, including the excessive storing of scrap tires and processed rubber near or underneath electrical power lines, and the NMED issued a compliance order in 2003.

According to a previously published El Defensor Chieftain report, it took two days for local fire department and city, county, state and federal agencies to contain the blaze, and on June 19, 2000, the county declared the fire a disaster and the Environmental Protection Agency took charge of the scene.

Eventually the fire was buried under a few feet of dirt, but flare-ups continued for several years after the fire was first put out. An estimated 750,000 tires were piled up and buried, but signs of smoldering and small billows of smoke could be seen emitting from the ground as recently as last June.

Originally there was a lawsuit between Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the power company responsible for the transformers involved in the fire and STP owners, which resulted in a settlement. However, the city of Socorro was not part of the litigation and the terms of that settlement are private.

In 2005, the NMED drilled several monitoring wells to ensure that no water contamination had resulted from the fire, and no evidence was found.