Neighbors worried about smoke at Naches landfill, owner says it’s steam

NACHES, Wash. — Randall Caton’s family has been operating the Caton Landfill in Naches for decades and every winter, they get call after call about concerned neighbors seeing smoke on their property.

However, Caton said what people are seeing now is a phenomenon that happens every time the temperatures start to drop. He said materials are warm from traveling on the roads and when they’re dumped off the truck, hitting cold air, that’s when it happens.

“Boom, you have steam,” Caton said. “So it might look like smoke from a distance, but it’s actually steam.”

Caton said they do occasionally have small fires at the landfill and they did have one a little over a week ago, but it was in an area that was mostly concrete and was extinguished quickly.

“We smothered the last two little fires we had, which was seriously no bigger than a five gallon bucket,” Caton said. “We feel they were arson because they were in a predominantly concrete area where fire should have never been.”

The landfill takes in mostly construction materials like concrete, asphalt, brush, gravel and dirt. Caton said they are not a municipal solid waste landfill.

“So there’s no household garbage that can can be brought in here,” Caton said. “No liquids or food products of any kind. No kitchen garbage sacks, no electronics chemicals, batteries.”

Caton said they do have a fire consultant they work with when a fire occurs, but extinguishing the fire mostly involves burying it under as much dirt as possible in order to smother it.

“Fires do happen, but anytime we do have a have a fire, we are diligent on putting that out and regulators are aware of this,” Caton said.

Caton said they’ve never had a fire large enough to be concerned about it spreading to nearby communities, but they have a dirt road around the property to act as a fire barrier just in case.

Naches Fire Chief Alan Baird said they’ve responded to several calls over the years for fires at the landfill, but since they’re often underground — and are put out with dirt and not water — his department doesn’t have the resources or training to extinguish them.

“There isn’t really necessarily anything we could do, but we can take a look make sure there’s no risk of it jumping out of the containment,” Baird said. “As long as the property owners is aware of the fire, like I said, they’re the ones that need to be able to get in there and work on extinguishment.”