Firefighters responded to a fire in a large mulch pile at the Vermont Mulch Company in Vernon Wednesday evening. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Firefighters responded to a fire in a large mulch pile at the Vermont Mulch Company in Vernon Wednesday evening. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Friday January 25, 2013

VERNON -- A Cersosimo Lumber administrator said controls are in place to prevent another fire like the one that occupied emergency responders for 13 hours this week.

Cersosimo received a permit last year to operate as The Vermont Mulch Co. Inc. at 1367 Fort Bridgman Road, where fire broke out in a large bark pile Wednesday afternoon.

Jeff Morse, Cersosimo general counsel, associated the incident with start-up complications at the relatively new business.

"It's a one-time event," Morse said. "It's something that happened because the piles got bigger than they should ever be operationally."

It's not uncommon to see steam rising from piles at the mulch company. Officials compared that effect to heat naturally generated by a compost pile, though on a much larger scale.

But on Wednesday, at around 1 p.m., Vernon fire Chief Todd Capen was driving by the business when something caught his eye.

"I thought it was a little more than steam," Capen said. "I stopped just to make sure there wasn't anything major."

He quickly realized that one of the piles -- which he estimated at 40 or 50 feet high -- was burning. Crews assembled to fight a fire that eventually brought firefighters from Vernon, Guilford, Westminster and Brattleboro along with personnel from Northfield and Bernardston, Mass., and from Hinsdale and Chesterfield, N.H.

"It's just very stubborn and time-consuming," Capen said.

Frigid temperatures also complicated matters, though Capen said there were no injuries reported.

The company "had a building for us where we could get out of the cold," Capen said. "There's a very good working relationship between the fire company and the mulch company and Cersosimo."

Around 5 p.m., Capen said, volunteers thought they had the fire extinguished and packed up their gear. But they were summoned to the scene again less than 15 minutes later, he said.

Firefighters eventually wrapped up their work around 2 a.m. Thursday, Capen said, estimating a 13-hour time investment for his department. Still, he said the incident went as well as it could have.

"We've never dealt with a mulch fire," he said. "Cersosimo had all the equipment that we could need if we needed it."

Morse said the fire started through spontaneous combustion in a pile of bark, which the company uses as raw material for mulch. It was a stockpile that had grown more than it should have as the business got under way, he said.

"They got bigger than they ever will be again," he said.

Under normal circumstances, "they'll manufacture the mulch as they get the raw materials in," Morse said.

In this case, the delay between receiving bark and making mulch "was a longer time period than they had anticipated," he said, adding that there are fire controls at the business.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.

Firefighters responded to a fire in a large mulch pile at the Vermont Mulch Company in Vernon Wednesday evening.(Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Firefighters responded to a fire in a large mulch pile at the Vermont Mulch Company in Vernon Wednesday evening. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)