DEC: Steam, not smoke, created stench near fairgrounds

Zaz Hollander

WASILLA --It was steam, not smoke from an underground fire, that caused the noxious odors coming from the Alaska Demolition waste pit near the Alaska State Fair grounds on Tuesday morning, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

State officials met with the company and the Palmer Fire Department at the site Wednesday afternoon.

The steam came from "a lot of rotting wood" in the pit, said Lori Aldrich, solid waste program coordinator with DEC. The vapor stemmed from a natural reaction underground, anaerobic digestion, that caused the wood fibers to break down, creating heat, Aldrich said.

Officials dug up a fairly small area to look for problems, she said. Had there been a fire, the plastic in the pit would have melted, which it hadn't.

The company, one of the largest demolition firms in the state, dumps wood and other waste, including plastic, into the 36-acre fill site next to the fairgrounds.

The state plans no enforcement action against Alaska Demolition. The company responded appropriately to the problem by filling the cracks where the steam seeped out, Aldrich said.

Another so-called "monofill" site in Birchwood had a similar problem over a larger section and the state told the operator to dig up the area and rotate it, like compost, she said.

Numerous residents of nearby homes called officials to complain about the low-lying cloud that smelled, as one person described it, like an electrical fire. A site operator at Alaska Demolition got to work at 7 a.m. Tuesday and spotted the steam. Unfortunately, a temperature inversion held the vapor in place.

Palmer Deputy Fire Chief Bruce Axtell said he was satisfied with the DEC's findings on Wednesday. He originally thought on Tuesday that the smell and steam was caused by a fire because of the smell and other factors. The department was notified of the issue by a 911 caller.

There have been fires in the past at the demolition debris site, Axtell said.

Reach Zaz Hollander at or 257-4317.