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Tire Fires

Photo of Burning Tires

Tire fires, although infrequent, are serious situations that are difficult to extinguish and expensive to clean-up.

Tire fires often become major hazardous incidents affecting entire communities—frequently requiring neighborhood evacuations and long, drawn-out fire extinguishing operations. These fires threaten pollution of the air, soil, and water. EPA, states, municipalities, and private companies have spent millions of dollars cleaning up tire fires across the country.

EPA does not consider scrap tires a hazardous waste. However, if a tire fire occurs, tires break down into hazardous compounds including gases, heavy metals, and oil. The average passenger car tire is estimated to produce over two gallons of oil when burned. (Source: Rubber Manufacturers Association, April 2003)

Oil that exudes into ground and surface water as a result of tire fires is a significant environment pollutant. In some cases, this may trigger Superfund cleanup status. For every million tires consumed by fire, about 55,000 gallons of runoff oil can pollute the environment unless contained and collected. This oily material is also highly flammable.

Air pollution is also produced by tire fires. Air emissions may include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, styrene, phenols, and butadiene. For more information on toxic air pollutants generated by tire fires, go to EPA’s Toxics Air Pollution website.

Notable Tire Fires

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Extinguishing Tire Fires

Waste tires are difficult to ignite, but once a tire fire starts, it is generally very hard to control and extinguish. Using water and/or foam to extinguish a tire fire is often futile. Water is best used to keep adjacent, unburned tires from igniting.

Smothering a tire fire with dirt or sand is usually the best option for extinguishing fires. Typically, the sand or dirt is moved with heavy equipment to cover the burning tires.

Putting out a tire fire can also be facilitated by removing unburned tires from the pile to lessen the fuel load.

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Additional Information

Through EPA’s Superfund website, users can search for National Priority List sites throughout the US, including those that have resulted from tire fires—such as the Rhinehart Tire Fire Dump Site in Virginia.

Other resources include:

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