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Wind, Gas and Debris Fueled Massive Landfill Fire

Firefighters from across the Flathead Valley battled the blaze for six hours before finally putting it out

It took crews six hours to suppress a massive fire at the Flathead County landfill north of Kalispell on May 10.

West Valley Fire Chief Russ Sappington said gas, debris and winds helped fuel one of the biggest blazes his department has ever encountered.

The fire started early Sunday afternoon in an appliance pile, and Sappington said firefighters did not leave the site until 9:30 p.m. He said a landfill employee noticed the fire in the early afternoon and officials believe that something inside appliance pile sparked while a front-end loader was working. Things like gas and other chemicals helped the fire quickly grow and within minutes it was spewing thick black smoke hundreds of feet into the air.

“There were a lot of factors that led to this being a really hard fire to put out,” Sappington said.

More than 30 firefighters helped battle the blaze. Among the departments that responded were West Valley, Marion, Bad Rock, Martin City, South Kalispell, Kalispell, Smith Valley, Whitefish and Evergreen.

Sappington said firefighters finally got the blaze under control when they used a front-end loader to break apart the pile and attack the flames with foam.

Smoke from the fire could be seen from Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Whitefish. Traffic on nearby U.S. Highway 93 slowed to a crawl as onlookers watched the blaze. 

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