By Karen Zautyk
A fire in the Kearny meadows last week has ignited a debate about the continuing use of a landfill site as a commercial operation. According to fire officials, the property has been the scene of three blazes since late last year.
Last week’s fire, in a massive mulch pile, was first reported at 10:30 p.m. Monday, March 4, and was declared under control at 2:40 a.m. March 5, although firefighters remained at the scene until 6:30 a.m., Kearny Fire Chief Steve Dyl said.
It was the Secaucus Fire Department that first alerted Kearny after its members noticed a glow in the sky over the meadows, Dyl noted. At the height of the blaze, that glow reportedly was visible across the Hudson in Manhattan.
The site was a composting facility operated by the Nature’s Choice Corp. at 1 Baler Blvd., just off the Belleville Turnpike. The company leases the property from the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission and it is located on the NJMC’s 1E Landfill, which straddles the Kearny- North Arlington border.
The mulch pile became engulfed in flames, which ignited “a fairly large brush fire,” burning several acres of meadows, Dyl reported. No buildings were in danger, and there were no injuries, he said.
The KFD responded with all five of its units and was joined by four units from the North Arlington FD. The Jersey City FD covered Kearny while the town’s firefighters were battling the blaze.
Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos said the property — leased to a succession of private firms over the years — “has been the site of recurring fires, which have been imposing a strain on firefighter overtime, which has been a source of concern for us for several years.”
“After the last fire [in 2012], we demanded that the commission install a fire hydrant closer to the site,” the mayor said. The NJMC reportedly complied, getting Nature’s Choice to bear the cost of installing that hydrant.
Following the previous blaze, Santos said, he accompanied Dyl on an inspection of the site, climbing to the top of the mulch heap. The decomposing wood, the mayor said, emits an “unpleasant” odor and fumes “which can ignite easily.”
Fires apparently are “not an infrequent occurrence for this type of facility,” he stated. Santos also noted that, inasmuch as the NJMC has zoning authority over the site and “is the landlord,” Kearny cannot do much about the operation, except to point out the hazards each time the lease comes up for renewal and ask what, if anything, can be done to make the operation safer.
According to the NJMC, Nature’s Choice holds a threeyear lease on the property, under a contract running from September 2012 through Dec. 31, 2014.
A commission spokesman noted, “The NJMC has been leasing space at the 1E Landfill for composting operations for at least the past 20 years.”
“The NJMC,” he added, “is aware of Mayor Santos’ concerns and is working to set up a meeting with Kearny fire officials.”
The exact cause of last week’s blaze is unknown. Dyl said the N.J. Division of Fire Safety “has been notified to investigate.”