Fires at former dump site keep Lockport firefighters busy
By BRIAN STANLEY Bstanley@stmedianetwork.com July 17, 2012 6:14PM
Updated: August 19, 2012 6:10AM
LOCKPORT TOWNSHIP — The stench of rotting garbage. Holes of smoke and flames opening in the ground.
It could not possibly have a better name than Wasteland.
The 6.5-acre site off Route 171 near Oak Avenue was closed as a landfill 30 years ago, but illegal dumping continued for years. In July 1996, the debris caught fire and burned for 13 days.
On June 29, residents in the houses across Route 171 called to report seeing smoke.
Firetrucks couldn’t get back to the blaze, so firefighters carried hoses through the trees.
“You’d look down to see big holes of smoke and fire. It’s like hell,” Deputy Fire Chief John Kure said. “The ‘ground’ is just a crust on top and we can’t put it out.”
Daily checks required
In the past two weeks, firefighters have gone back to check on the Wasteland site twice daily and extinguished a dozen fires.
“Using about 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of water each time from Lockport Township’s only reservoir in the middle of a drought,” Fire Chief Dave Skoryi noted.
The fires smolder in an area between the railroad tracks and a 20-foot high bluff, where illegal dumpers used to back off State Street and unload into the ravine below. After firefighters realized they’d regularly be coming back, a neighboring contractor bulldozed a path through the trees. The crash trucks that are usually kept at Lewis University Airport can now pull within site of the dump to extinguish the fire on the surface.
“We have no idea what’s buried there,” Skoryi said.
Property changed hands
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency reports the property was used as a stone quarry in the 1800s and has gone through a succession of owners. In 1974, it was owned by the Globe Oil Co.. In 1981, it was held in trust and leased to Wasteland Inc. Forty-five storage tanks containing used motor oil were found in poor condition on the property at that time.
The landfill was closed and fined $75,000 in August 1982 when it was operated by Vernon Lamoreaux for a trust held by Bank of Lyons and Roger Pemble.
A paper recycling business continued operating on one corner of the property, which the IEPA identifies as “Wasteland II,” but burned down prior to the 1996 fire.
Despite 11 inches of rain and being sprayed with foam and chemicals the fire continued to burn until firefighters rented a backhoe to excavate debris 15 feet deep.
Reports said rotted furniture, mattresses, appliances and hundred of old tires were hauled away by county contractors and volunteers once the blaze was extinguished.
Arthur Hammel owned the property at the time of the fire, but had sold it by December 2001 when the EPA hired a company to remove gas cylinders and other trash strewn throughout the site.
The EPA still has monitoring stations at the property.
“The problem is there’s been no real ownership of the property and with the turnover there hasn’t been one particular corporation to work with (since),” Will County Land Use Director Curt Paddock said. “Now it appears we’ve got an owner who doesn’t want to say he’s the owner.”
Land Use records show the Wasteland dump belongs to Orlando RV Park, which is believed to be owned by George Stourton. Stourton, of Chicago, could not be reached for comment.
“It’s our understanding Stourton has leased the property to another party,” Paddock added.
As authorized, Land Use has scheduled a hearing for burning ordinance violations on Aug. 28. But the urgency of recurring fires has also led the department to ask the state’s attorney to draft an injunction that will be submitted to a judge this week cleaning the site immediately at a cost to the owner.
“We would then excavate or put a clay cap over the area,” Paddock said. “The EPA would rather have a cap than have (the garbage) excavated.”