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Fire on the Water: Impacts of Firefighting Activities for the Helotes Mulch Fire on the Edwards Aquifer

Rosemary M. Wyman1 and Kelly Cook2
1 Baer Engineering and Environmental Consulting, Inc., 7756 Northcross Dr., Suite 211, Austin, Texas 78757
2 Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), P.O. Box 13087, Austin, Texas 78711-3087

On December 25, 2006, a fire was reported in a debris pile located at a construction company in Helotes, Texas. The debris pile covered approximately 4.1 acres, was approximately 80 ft tall, and contained approximately 171,000 cubic yards of material. Smoke from the fire contained particulates 2.5 microns in diameter and smaller (PM2.5) at levels considered to be unhealthy for humans to breathe. At one time, up to 400 residents were evacuated from their homes due to the impact from the smoke.

The debris pile was located over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone (EARZ). When firefighting began, it was determined that there was a direct connection between the debris pile and the Edwards Aquifer. The firefighting methodology was altered to minimize impact to the aquifer. A balance was reached between aquifer protection and the human health and safety issues created by the smoke. Firewater contaminants (semi-volatile organic compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) were ultimately detected in seven sole-source domestic drinking water wells in the local area. The impacted residents were provided with alternate sources of water until the contaminants had reduced to pre-fire conditions.


AAPG Search and Discover Article #90069©2007 GCAGS 57th Annual Convention, Corpus Christi, Texas