County knew about threat before fire sparked


ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A large thick black smoke plume could be seen burning southwest of Albuquerque. Tires were on fire from an illegal dump that county officials have known about for years and haven’t done much about it.

“There’s a variety of outcomes that could result from that including a fine or jail or more time to clean it up,” said George Schroeder, the Bernalillo County Environmental Health Manager.

The county has been trying for years to get A.B. Swanson to clean up his 40 acres. The county estimates he has at least 380,000 tires he uses for rubber fences. On Special Assignment last October, Swanson told KRQE News 13 the tires were used for water erosion control. Several dozen tires were seen submerged in the water.

Swanson said when he bought the property about a decade ago, the county told him he could use the tires that way.

“I went to zoning, I asked them what I needed to do,” he said last year. “They said you don’t need nothing. You can do the fencing. We don’t care what you do out there.”

Schroeder disputes that claim and says for more than three years the county has been trying to get Swanson to clean up the tires knowing it’s a fire and health threat. They even took him to court. But nothing was done.

Thursday a fire started and burned at least 1,000 of his tires. Bernalillo county fire officials say they got the call around 7:00 a.m. From Sky News 13, smoke was seen billowing from the West Mesa south of the jail near Rio Puerco. Fire crews brought in a bulldozer to clear a road and get crews to the property. They fought the flames with water and dirt. BCFD says it was not easy fighting the fire with no water nearby.

“Right now, it’s having enough water on site to effectively extinguish the tires,” said Chris Gober of the Bernalillo County Fire Department. “We’re hauling water back and forth from MDC using water trucks and Fire Department water tenders.”

Firefighters still don’t know how the blaze started. They said they should know in about a week.

Around 4:00 p.m. Crews said they had the fire out.

Now the focus shifts back to cleaning up the illegal dump. Schroeder says instead of looking at cleaning up the entire property at a cost of $1 million, which neither he nor Swanson has in their budget, Schroeder says they’ll look at cleaning smaller piles at a time.

“Let’s get the stuff that’s in the fences, let’s get the stuff in that we can pick up, a little bit at a time instead of going for some big fix that would remove all the tires” Schroeder said.

He says they still have the legal authority to clean-up Swanson’s property. But the county is still trying to figure out if it will pick up the tab or put a lien on Swanson’s property.

“We sought grant funds and basically stayed in a legal position to go on the property and take the tires and we’ve also instructed Mr. Swanson on what he should do to remove the tires,” Schroeder said.

He admits Swanson probably won’t clean-up the tires on his own.

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