SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — On Wednesday evening, a fire broke out at the Sioux Falls Regional Sanitary Landfill. According to Ryan Bechtold, landfill operations manager, fires at the landfill are not at all uncommon.

“Not rare. They’re rare that they happen at night, but they will pop up in the middle of the day, and most of the fires that pop up in the middle of the day, when we’re actually working — we’re able to put out right away,” Bechtold said.

Most of the fires, Bechtold notes, result from the improper disposal of lithium ion batteries. Many fires pop up when the staff are compacting trash, he said.

“The compactor crushing garbage into tighter compaction breaks open a lithium ion battery; that starts on fire — we put a little bit of dirt over it and put it out right away,” Bechtold said, adding that water will not do the trick with these sorts of fires.

Instead of throwing these batteries away, Bechtold says to recycle them.

Not sure how? Take them to a home improvement store. Bechtold says nearly all will take batteries. If you’re in the Sioux Falls area, you can take them to the Household Hazardous waste facility. These options also apply to tool batteries.

Though batteries are most common, there are other causes.

“This time of year and in yearly spring a lot of fires we get are from fire pits where they’re not letting ashes cool all the way down, or people who bring out burn barrels,” Bechtold explained. “Even if it sat for a month — when they get tipped over, those coals in the middle can still be hot.”

Spontaneous combustion can also occur. Bechtold highlights paint thinner and other chemicals that can react with air as culprits.

The suspected cause of the most recent fire is believed to be a barrel, Bechtold said. “We covered [it] with dirt, but it still got tipped over,” he explained. “Then we have geo-synthetic rolls — plastics that come out that can’t be recycled — those started on fire last night, and since those are made of plastic, it produced a lot of smoke.”

The fire was reported just after 7 p.m., and Bechtold said the Hartford Volunteer Fire Department responded.

“I got the call from Metro at 7:18ish (p.m.),” Bechtold recalled. “They informed me that Hartford Volunteer Fire Department was on the way already — we had six employees out here helping the fire [crews].”

The Hartford Department called a few other departments to assist, Bechtold added.

In all, Bechtold describes a fire that wasn’t too hard to put out. “I got the call at 7:18ish — they were out the gate by 9:18 last night,” he said, putting the response at just under two hours.

The area burned was estimated by Bechtold at around 30 x 8 feet.

Generally, fires at the landfill are handled by employees.

“[Fires will] start on the surface and we smother the fires with dirt,” Bechtold said of the process. “The fire department will come out if it’s a piece of equipment on fire or a building — other than that it’s my team that fights the fire.”

There are also a variety of mitigation measures taken to prevent fires. “Once a week we put six inches of dirt over everything,” Bechtold said. “That helps prevent the fire from getting too deep in the waste piles.”

Landfills aren’t just big holes filled with trash. While they do start out as a big pit, a cross section would reveal layers of waste separated by layers of soil. The dirt acts as a sort of fire-break in the event of ignition, with the goal of preventing a fire from spreading deep and wide below the surface.

This fire, like most, was extinguished using machinery to push dirt over it. It was also just the second one this year that Bechtold would call a big fire. The first occurred back in January, which damaged an outbuilding. He says that too was the result of plastic rolls catching fire.