The trash hauler who ignited the deadly Sandalwood fire by dumping burning garbage on a windy Calimesa roadside was following recommended safety standards, experts say.
It is not unusual for trash to spontaneously catch fire and the practice nationally is for trucks to dump the hot load and call the fire department, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association in Washington, D.C.
But the policy didn’t take into account the blistery winds that put Calimesa on high fire alert.
Kirk Sander, chief of staff for the 800-member association, said Friday the group may rewrite the protocol after the Riverside County fire that destroyed 76 structures and killed one person.
Sander said although no statistics are kept, there appears to be an uptick nationally in trash fires caused by discarded lithium batteries. In some cases, trash can ignite from a build up of gases and heat, endangering the $300,000 trucks.
“The protocol is to dump the load to save the truck,” said Sander.
The protocol also advises to keep onlookers away from the burning heap and to call the fire department.
“That was probably written by someone who doesn’t experience wildfires often and (doesn’t) take into account where you’re dumping it,” Sander said.
State fire officials said a crew from CR&R jettisoned the flaming trash near Sandalwood Drive and Seventh Street. Arson and law enforcement investigators are trying to determine whether any crime was committed by the hauler, such as illegal dumping.
Investigators also are trying to determine whether an incendiary substance was illegally dumped in the trash. These days, trash truck drivers are more concerned about discarded cell phones, electronic readers and sound-making toys, Sander said, all powered by potentially explosive batteries.
An executive for CR&R did not return three messages for comment left at his office.