Niagara Gazette — I
t’s a two story high pile of brush, located near the CSX Railroad yards across from New Road and north of Porter Road.
For years, the city’s massive compost pile has been undisturbed in that isolated location. But not anymore.
For the last three weekends, Niagara Falls firefighters have found themselves battling increasingly larger blazes at the highly combustable combination of wood and waste. The Falls Director of Public Works Dave Kinney, who’s responsible for the compost pile, believes the fires are not a result of spontaneous combustion.
“We haven’t had a fire back there since I’ve been back working for the city in 2008,” Kinney said. “But now we have have one on three consecutive weekends? There’s something else going on there. It’s not just spontaneous combustion.”
Falls Fire Department arson investigators say Kinney has good reason to be suspicious. They say evidence found near the compost pile shows someone has been “playing with fire” there.
“What we believe is happening there is kids are starting campfires or bonfires back there and then just leaving them. We did notice some evidence of campfires,” Falls Fire Department Chief of Fire Prevention Dan Ciszek said. “Everything has been so dry out there that the fire just spreads and then there’s trouble.”
Ciszek says, so far, firefighters have been lucky. All the fires have been able to be contained, though fighting the blazes hasn’t been easy and each one has been larger than the last.
“It’s a no man’s land out there,” Ciszek said. “There aren’t any nearby hydrants and we have to stretch a lot of hose (to reach the fires). We’ve also had to call in (water) tanker trucks from the volunteer fire companies to assist.”
The most recent blaze, on Saturday night, also tied up a contingent of city firefighters and equipment for hours.
“We had crews there all night,” Ciszek said, “so it is a concern that (the fires) are tying up crews for a long time.”
Kinney shares that concern.
“If (firefighters) are fighting a fire all night (at the compost pile) what happens if there’s a fire somewhere else and someone needs to be rescued,” Kinney said, “or they’re needed at the scene of a serious accident and they have to be out here because of foolishness and stupidity?”
The location of the pile could also present a serious threat if a fire could not be easily contained. Kinney points out that with the drought-like conditions this summer, a spreading blaze could threaten the CSX rail yard or the Hyde Park Golf Course.
“Neither of those situations would be good,” the DPW chief said.
Battling the blazes sometimes requires that Kinney bring in operating engines to run heavy equipment that can move the pile around and assist the firefighters in reaching the flames.
“It’s costing me a fortune to have guys come in and move stuff around and then clean it up,” he said. “Those trees and brush and shrubs are all so dry.”
In addition to the fires at the compost pile, the city golf course has also been a target of vandals. On July 16, someone burned a portable toilet to the ground, incinerated a garbage can, stuck the handles of a dozen rakes into the green of a golf hole and wrote anti-semetic messages in the sand bunkers around another green.
“So (the vandalism) started at the compost pile and moved to the golf course,” Kinney said. “There is a cost to all of this and I hope they catch someone.”
Falls Police Superintendent John Chella said investigating the arsons and vandalism is a top priority.
“We’ve spoken to the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office and the Town o
f Niagara Police, asking them to be on the lookout for kids on ATVs in on the back side (of the compost pile),” Chella said. “And I’ve talked to all our patrol captains to relate to their officers that when they are gassing up (at the nearby Corporation Yard), they should get back there and check the area. We have multiple officers on every shift who’ll be doing that. We will pay particular attention to these incidents.”