CHESTER CO., S.C. - After nearly four months, a landfill fire in Chester County is still burning and still frightening people in a nearby town who are breathing in the smoke.
This week, the Department of Health and Environmental Control issued a flyer to the town of Lockhart, telling residents that if they have breathing issues such as asthma, they should avoid going outdoors at certain times when the smoke is at its worst.
The fire at the former Bennett Construction and Debris Landfill first started in early November. A massive effort by firefighters succeeded in snuffing it out, but only for a while. It has been smoldering nonstop since late last year.
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"Something needs to be done. This is ridiculous," said Erin Solesbee, from Lockhart.
The town of about 600 sits just across the Broad River from the landfill, and folks there are the ones most affected by the constant smoke.
Betty Baxley only has to look out her back window, and she can see the haze and smoke in the distance.
"I can stand on my back porch and see it, even at night, and smell it real bad, too, at night," she said.
Many residents like Baxley wonder how DHEC and the Environmental Protection Agency can say that there's no danger, yet send a notice urging people to stay indoors at certain times of day.
Lockhart Mayor Ailene Ashe broke down in tears while sharing her frustration over the nearly four month long saga.
"We need help! Who's gonna help us?" Ashe said. "There are people here, elderly people who are scared."
The EPA set up air and water quality monitoring stations months ago. The agency said all results have been within safe limits.
However, the smoldering landfill is the burial site for asbestos, roofing material and other construction debris. Neighbors are concerned about what might be there that officials don’t even know about.
Ashe showed Channel 9 a fax she often receives from DHEC, forecasting when weather conditions will cause more smoke, and urging her to tell residents. She received one Thursday, alerting her to a threat of increasing smoke from the fire extending through Friday morning.
"I just can't believe there's no way to put this fire out," she said.
Chester County emergency officials estimate it'll cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to put out the fire, which is as much as 40 feet deep beneath construction debris.
Meanwhile, neighbors fear that a town of only 600 is too small to matter and, maybe, to be heard.
"I don't know if it's that they just done care about us, the citizens of Lockhart," Solesbee said.
The EPA in Atlanta told Channel 9 Friday that the agency is still assessing the situation and monitoring air and water quality. However, no federal money has been allocated to put out the fire at this time. When and if that will happen is unknown.
DHEC has also said the former owner of Bennett Landfill has not been willing to take action and help put out the fire.