WATSON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - A neighbor whose home has been filled with smoke from an underground fire that's burned for nine months said she complained this summer to the state Department of Natural Resources.
But, she said, the DNR ignored her.
On Friday, in response to a 24 Hour News 8 report that aired the night before, DNR firefighters worked to put out the stubborn peat moss fire.
"I did try to contact you folks," neighbor Cheryl Johnson told a DNR firefighter at the scene on Friday.
DNR firefighter Paul Rogers told her he never got that call.
"I'm the only one who works in that office," he told her. "I don't know who else would have even answered my phones."
Johnson said she called the DNR's Kalamazoo office a month ago, tired of the smoke filling homes, making her and her neighbors sick. Some complain of chest congestion and coughing.
"I'm disappointed," Johnson told 24 Hour News 8. "I can't be stronger about that, that it took almost four weeks and your story to get some action from the DNR. I suppose I probably should have tried a second time, but I was shot down so quickly from both of them."
The state Department of Environmental Quality also refused to help, she said. DEQ officials confirmed they were aware of the fire, but said it wasn't a health risk.
On Friday, the DNR started fighting the fire with shovels and water mixed with foam.
Frank Doezema, the farmer who owns this land with his brother near 14th Street and 124th Avenue, said he believes it started in December, when workers were burning brush. He thinks the fire burned down into the peat moss and smoldered.
Neighbors said the smoke got worse this summer, forcing one neighbor to spend nights with family and friends. The county installed a sign warning motorists of low visibility.
"I did not know about it," the DNR's Rogers told 24 Hour News 8. "I'm not sure which office she might have called, but we did not know about this at all."
He said he learned about it Friday morning, after others in the DNR saw Thursday's story.
If the DNR had known about it, he said, firefighters would have responded immediately.
"Public safety is our No. 1 concern," Rogers said.
Instead, Hopkins firefighters have responded four times in the last month, spraying 35,000 gallons of water on the fire but failing to knock it down.
Friday, the DNR made progress, knocking down hot spots and waiting for new hot spots to develop.
The foam mixed with water helps smother the fire.
"That helps encapsulate it and that helps suffocate it because it has to have oxygen to keep
going," Rogers said.
He said hot spots can hide underground.
"As you can see, there wasn't even any smoke in there and when Keith started digging it up, we found another pocket of it in there," he explained as a fellow firefighter turned over a shovel of smoldering peat. "There could be a pocket of it anywhere, buried somewhere in here and it's just following the
material through, so you just never know where it's going to pop up. It could sit for a couple days and not do anything."
Rogers said it could take the DNR several weeks to knock it down, with firefighters returning in coming days to check on hot spots. They're hoping for a soaking rain.
Johnson, the neighbor, said it appears the DNR's plan was working.
"It definitely looks better than last night, I have to say," she said. "The trick is staying on top of it, so that it doesn't continue to have more spots that continue to grow when no one's here for a couple of days."
The accounts may have been impacted between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15.
A little girl from Cedar Springs is about to get an early Christmas present: A new prosthetic hand.
MDOT will conduct an audit of a stretch of road where a Hamilton teacher died earlier this month.