With temperatures over 90 degrees Monday, New Jersey was on high alert for fires and about 8 p.m. Millburn Fire Department got a call that a fire had erupted in the Essex County mulch yard on the South Mountain reservation.
Firefighters got to the South Mountain Compost Site off South Orange Avenue quickly and already part of the football field sized pile of mulch was engulfed in flames, Battalion Chief Robert Echavarria said.
“There were flames 50 feet high and 100 feet wide,” Echavarria said, adding that firefighters were quickly able to get the flames under control, but had to keep digging further for a while. “The mulch is so dry and the piles are so huge, there was a lot of it hidden underneath.”
The company that the county contracts with to operate the site, used a back hoe to get underneath the top layers of wood chips to find other hot spots, he said.
“We were lucky because there was no wind and that a deputy from the Sheriff’s Office saw it so quickly, and called it in,” Echavarria said. “The concern was that it is right next to the reservation, which is really dry and has a lot of underbrush.”
At the site Tuesday morning workers were leveling the mountains of mulch, looking to make sure there were no more hot spots and to create lower mounds.
Workers said there is more mulch than usual this year because last October’s snowstorm downed so many trees, and much of it came from Millburn and Short Hills.
The South Mountain Compost Site provides the compost, mulch, wood chips and topsoil for all of the Essex County parks and recreation facilities. The county contracts with S. Rontondi & Sons, Inc., of Summit, to run the 3-acre site, which also sells mulch to the public.
A superviser with Rotondi who did not provide his name said the company was going to start having someone on site in the evenings so they can watch for any additional problems.
"We always have to be careful," he said. "It's been so dry and it was 92 here yesterday. The whole state was on alert. And it could have been bad if we'd had any wind."
In other Millburn Fire Department news, firefighters recently rescued a woman who had fallen in a gulley in the South Mountain Reservation.
The woman had been hiking with friends, when she slipped and fell in a stream and complained of back pain. South Orange Volunteer Rescue Squad located her and got her out of the stream and on a long board and in a stokes basket but could not get her out alone, said Battalion Chief Joseph Latona said.
Millburn firefighters carried her through the reservation to where they were able to park their brush truck. She was taken to Overlook hospital for treatment.