Chronology of Roanoke County, Virginia Tire Fire

Starlight Lane Tire Fire
March 23, 2002 - April 16, 2002

March 23, 2002: Around 3 pm Virginia's largest illegal tire dump, containing an estimated 3 to 5 million tires, caught fire after a brush fire spread to the dump. The dump is owned by W.J. Keeling in south Roanoke County. A shelter was setup for families who wanted to voluntarily evacuate the area. Initial speculation as to the cause centered around a passing train.

March 24, 2002: Firefighters continue efforts to extinquish the brush fires. By the second day, 75 percent of the tire dump was on fire. The Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality says air samples showed no cause for alarm. At the request of Roanoke County officials, Governor Warner issues a state of emergency for the area. County and State officials say that they have tried to do something about the illegal dump for over 3 decades.

March 25, 2002: Firefighters contain the brush fire to 1000 acres. Roanoke Health Departments issue a health advisory warning those with heart and lung diseases to be careful.

March 26, 2002: EPA announces they will take over the tire fire cleanup; however, the agency has to wait on a court warrant to enter the property. Area schools cancel outdoor athletic activities. Officials say no hazardous pollutants were found in air samples, but particulates were 4 to 5 times higher than health standards. Area clinics and hospitals report no increase in visits.

March 27, 2002: Court grants EPA access to the site. Media reports cite court documents quoting EPA as saying there is an "imminent and substantial" threat to the public. After the previous day's rain of nearly 1/2 an inch, the health advisory is lifted. EPA commits to $500,000 from Superfund toward the cleanup. EPA requests an additional $700,000 while Virginia DEQ says it may be able to provide $1.4 million.

March 28, 2002: Roanoke County Fire Marshal declares that the fire was intentionally set. Media outlets report that the County and State have been paying Mr. Keeling $2500 annually for permission to enter his property, but officials had to promise not to report any other health hazards that they might find. BREDL issues press release showing potential pollutant emissions.

Estimating emissions from a tire fire

For estimating the potential emissions from the Roanoke Tire Fire, we assume that 2 million tires will be consumed.

(other variables not included in equation: burn rate {the hotter the tire burns the less toxins emitted, a smoldering tire emits more toxins}; type of tire {a light truck tire weighs about 1.5 times more than passenger tires and heavy truck tires weigh about 5 times more than passenger tires - in this equation only passenger tires are considered}

2,000,000 times 15.4 pounds (approx. weight of a passenger tire according to EPA AP-42 info)(*some sources estimate passenger tire weight to be closer to 20 pounds) equals 30,800,000 pounds of burning tires.

30,800,000 divided by 2000 equals 15,400 tons of burning tires

85 percent of 15,400 equals 13,090 tons (only 85 percent of a tire is

Thus, ie, to estimate emissions for benzene (using "chunk" column from Table 1 of  the .pdf file "Air Emissions from Scrap Tire Combustion" (EPA-600/R-97-115) 1-16-98 

(emission factor of 4.3126 lb/ton)

13,090 times 4.3126 equals  56,452 pounds of benzene estimated to be "potentially" emitted over the course of the fire.

March 29, 2002: Officials announce $15,000 reward for information in hopes of finding out who started the fire. An overnight temperature inversion in the Roanoke Valley trapped the tire fire pollution which prompted another health advisory.

Week 2

March 30, 2002: Nearby residents report nose bleeds, headaches, breathing problems. Officials say that pollutants are still in the healthy range. EPA may use special gel / foam to lessen the smoke from the fire.

April 1, 2002: EPA has hired Williams Fire & Hazard Control, a Texas-based company, to help extinquish the tire fire. A Williams' crew should arrive in Roanoke within the next couple of days.

April 2, 2002: Williams' crew arrived in Roanoke may start as early as the next day to begin putting out the hottest spots using a combo of foam and water. Agencies may have a public meeting later in the week.

April 3, 2002: EPA will hold a public meeting at 7 pm on April 4, 2002 at the Cave Spring H.S. Auditorium to discuss the tire fire.

April 4, 2002: About 50 people showed up for the government's info. meeting. Officials from Roanoke County, U.S. EPA, VA DEQ, and VA Dept. of Health were present to speak and answer questions. Roanoke County Fire and Rescue Chief Richard Burch said that on the day of the fire there were 30 to 40 mph wind gusts and only 14 percent humidity, thus the fire spread quickly. U.S. EPA Project Coordinator Chris Wagner said that suppression of the remaining piles of tires on fire began today. There are 2 major areas on fire. One area is called the "ravine" fire because it is located at the bottom of a 200 foot drop straight down in front of the property. It is smoke from this fire that EPA says impacts the Starlight Lane area. The second major area is called the "L-shape" fire. At one time, EPA says there were 20 separate tire piles on fire. The ravine fire is at least 25 feet deep. In the middle of the pile, it is still burning extremely hot. Their gauge reads up to 900 degrees and twice their gauge maxed out. The EPA is tackling the fire "one piece at a time". There are both surface and sub-surface burning. As far as runoff, the agencies have set up a lined pond on site to collect runoff. The water in the pond will be recycled to use on the fire and will be properly disposed of afterwards. It is too early to tell about the amount of runoff. EPA estimates that the tire fire could be out by April 30. EPA has set up a community relations trailer. DEQ and EPA still claim that toxins are not being measured offsite. By midnight on the day of the fire, DEQ had 2 suma cannisters that were collecting air samples. They were air lifted by Virginia State Police helicopter to the lab in Richmond for quick analysis. DEQ says that all results have shown the air meets the ambient quality for health. DEQ continues to monitor for air quality, but not with the suma cannisters. They have 3 Particulate Matter 10 monitors set up, in addition to the 2 normal P.M. 2.5 monitors located in Roanoke and Salem. The Virginia Dept. of Health has had 3 health advisories and have seen some hospital visits that have been attributed to the tire fire. Well Water samples have been taken. These samples have tested okay, but they were conducted on Monday prior to Tuesday's rain. They are testing, and will continue to do so, well water within one mile of the fire. Residents are saying they are waking up in the middle of the night 2 or 3 am to find a smokey house. DEQ says that is attributed to the inversions that are frequent in the Roanoke Valley. Warm air comes down in the day, with evening temperatures dropping, the warm air is trapped by the colder air; so pollution is trapped in the valley. By 10:30am, the air is usually released as the temperature increases. DEQ forecasts temperature inversions to occur Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of this week. Mark Barker, BREDL SW VA Vice-President attended this meeting. He requested additional info regarding the toxins released from a tire fire and requested that the info and air and water sample results be made available to the public via the local library and internet. EPA says they are going to launch a website.

April 5, 2002: The Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality has posted information on its website. The EPA has set up a public information trailer at the soccer field across from Penn Forest Elementary School. The trailer will be open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition, a community information phone line is available to leave messages. The number is (540) 772-0542.    

Week 3

April 8, 2002: U.S. Senator John Warner and Congressman Bob Goodlatte toured the area around the tire fire. EPA would not let them access the site because the air quality, at the site, is still hazardous. Later this week, EPA hopes to have a website online.

April 9, 2002: Officials say a website should be up by the end of the week to provide more information to citizens. Plus, they are working on a cable television program to provide information to local citizens.

April 12, 2002: Virginia Governor Mark Warner visited the site. Media reports say that the "ravine fire" is out and EPA believes that more than 50 percent of the tire fire is out.

Week 4

April 15, 2002: EPA On Scene Coordinator website (includes Particulate Matter data, pictures, profile, etc)

April 16, 2002: EPA announces that the Roanoke County Tire Fire is finally out as of 11 am. The fire burned for 25 days over 139 acres. Only 3,000 - 4,000 tires remain on site. According to media reports, those tires will be hauled to a North Carolina recycler.


May 29, 2002: Police announce the arrest of a 14 year old male juvenile accused of setting the Roanoke County Tire Fire. The U.S. EPA and Virginia DEQ have spent almost $3 million cleaning up the tire fire and illegal dump.