Moody landfill fire

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Aerial view of the Moody landfill fire. Photo by the Moody Fire Department
An air quality monitor placed by the Environmental Protection Agency
The site after it was covered and re-seeded by the EPA
December 2023 aerial thermography of the landfill site

The Moody landfill fire was an uncontrolled fire burning through an underground multi-layer debris pile covering 23 to 50 acres in a "green waste" landfill on Annie Lee Road, partly in the city of Moody and partly on unincorporated land in northwestern St Clair County.

The landfill was initially licensed to Scott Russell through NDL Inc., which was incorporated in 2007, and later by Environmental Landfill Inc., on property owned by the Scott Russell Management Trust. Under its permit, the landfill accepted only plant matter and storm debris, and therefore its regular operations were not regulated by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) unless there was a public complaint lodged.

The fire was reported on the morning of Friday November 25, 2022 and was believed to have involved an area of approximately 25 acres and up to 100 feet thick. After the State of Alabama declared a state of emergency and toxic chemicals were found in air quality sampling, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took charge of bringing in contractors to extinguish the fire by excavating, compacting and covering the area. It was not expected that the site would be re-used as a landfill.


Since 2013 ADEM has received several complaints about the operation of the landfill, and their files document repeated observations of unauthorized waste as well as an apparent attempt by the operator "to hide waste previously dumped."

ADEM inspectors found violations on at least six different occasions, and noted each time that unauthorized materials at the site represented a fire hazard. Nevertheless, the landfill continued to operate and was never fined or shut down. From 2019 to 2021 the owners reported removing more than 50 tons of unauthorized waste to other disposal facilities.

In 2018, following a complaint, ADEM conducted an inspection of the landfill and found a potential of fire hazards, along with evidence of automotive, medical, industrial and hazardous wastes not allowed by its permit. The owners have claimed that non-authorized waste was removed from the site before the fire broke out.

During December, ADEM recommended that nearby residents limit outdoor activities, seal openings to their homes, and install high-quality filters in their HVAC units; and that particularly sensitive residents may benefit from relocating. Trussville City Schools curtailed their outdoor activities.

JCDH, GASP, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed air quality monitors at the edges of the landfill to document hazardous conditions. Laboratory results from the EPA's monitoring showed elevated levels of benzene and trichloroethylene (TCE), known human carcinogens. Determination of those hazards, along with requests from state and county officials, led the federal agency to assume responsibility on January 18 for leading efforts to extinguish the fire. Terry Stilman and another official arrived as on-scene coordinators for the EPA. Their first action was to install additional air quality monitors.

Nearby residents were made aware of the air quality risks per guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Most were advised to install high-quality air filters on HVAC equipment, to seal up openings to outside air, to limit outdoor activities, and to be in touch with health-care providers about monitoring symptoms.

ADEM's analysis of water samples taken from nearby sections of the Cahaba River and Big Black Creek in early February showed "no discernable impact" from the fire.


The Moody Fire Department initially responded to the scene. Firefighting officials have said that it is not feasible for them to attempt to extinguish it, and that their activities would focus on preventing it from spreading.

The Alabama Forestry Commission and ADEM visited the scene and provided technical advice, but left it to the St Clair County Commission to head the public response. The county obtained several bids from private contractors with experience fighting underground fires, and forwarded those proposals to state and federal officials for review before awarding a contract. While some initial discussions centered around smothering the fire with soil, that method was deemed unsafe for the conditions at the site. The bids considered, falling in the range of $2-3 million, all involved attempting to put out the fire with a combination of chemical foams and water, with some excavation work to access hotspots. Bids involving chemical agents also included measures to prevent runoff into Big Black Creek.

State of emergency

The St Clair County Commission declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, January 3, 2023, and prepared to solicit state and federal assistance. On January 10 Commission president Stan Batemon said that it is likely the site will be treated as a crime scene with other agencies attempting to discover how the fires started, and whether illegal dumping put residents at risk.

Governor Ivey issued a proclamation to declare a state of emergency on January 18. In a news release from ADEM issued the same day, the agency said that, "ADEM and state and local officials have concluded the most effective and safe way to extinguish the fire is for the EPA to lead the effort, and we have entered into an arrangement with the EPA to make that happen."

ADEM fines

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management filed an administrative order on July 19, 2023 detailing 90 alleged violations by Environmental Landfill, Inc. of state laws regarding waste management and open burning. Each violation carried a maximum fine of $25,000, but the Department was limited by law to recommending a $250,000 total civil fine for the incident.

EPA efforts

Once the EPA took charge of the site, the agency was able to mobilize contractors that it keeps on retainer to begin moving earth with a strategy of smothering the areas of active combustion. Early efforts were closely monitored for their effect on smoke output. Water trucks were kept on standby in the event that excavation activities resulted in surface burning.

Fill dirt for use at the site was sourced from about 2.5 miles away, creating a lot of truck traffic as 2,599 truckloads were brought to the fire. On January 26 the EPA increased its estimate of the cost of smothering the fire from $2.1 million to $2.8 million. At the same time, measurements of particles in the air around the site showed steady improvement as earth-moving and smoke-suppression activities proceeded.

On February 4, the EPA's on-Scene Coordinator Terry Stillman projected that "There shouldn't be, we hope, any noticeable smoke within about three weeks," but that the agency would likely be working for at least six weeks completing the process of leveling, compacting and covering the affected area with a clay soil cap and vegetation. By February 9, Stillman estimated that 50% of the site had been successfully graded and covered. By that point more than 6,500 cubic yards (546 truck loads) of fill dirt had been brought to the landfill. The EPA collected at least two truckloads of "improper waste" for removal to other disposal sites.

By March 24 the EPA reported that most of its work was complete, with the landfill area recompacted, regraded, covered and seeded with grass. A small crew remained on site with a water truck and excavator to deal with any new hotspots. The agency turned the property over to state and local authorities on May 1. At the time, then-coordinator Subash Patel said that odors might still be released for several weeks as it continued to cool, and that there was no guarantee that fires could not reignite.

Upon its return to state enforcement, the site was turned over to its private owners, subject to enforcement actions that might restrict the use of the property. Targeted air monitoring conducted in June showed now significant contaminants in the atmosphere.

In October 2023, during a period of prolonged drought, a 15-20 foot wide sinkhole opened in the compacted landfill site releasing a plume of smoke from still smoldering debris. The EPA returned to the site to cover the hotspot and survey the remainder of the landfill for other hazards. Aerial thermography in December still indicated a network of underground hotspots persisting.


A working group of elected officials and state department heads conducted a post-incident investigation which found that state authorities were ill-equipped to respond to this type of disaster. The authors recommended a thorough review of the State Emergency Operations Plan and the Alabama Emergency Management Act of 1955 to clarify the authority of various agencies, but did not recommend tighter regulation of landfills.

Class action suit

In December 2022 attorneys from Heninger Garrison Davis filed a class-action suit in St Clair County Circuit Court seeking damages from the operators, Charlie Rich and Environmental Landfill Inc.; and the property owners, the Scott Russell Management Trust.

Regulatory changes

On March 3 ADEM announced the formation of a "working group" to assess whether changes to laws, regulations, or other practices would help prevent similar future occurrences from causing similar damage. Members of the working group included ADEM director Jeff Smitherman, State Forester Rick Oates, Association of County Commissions of Alabama director Sonny Brasfield, Alabama League of Municipalities director Greg Cochran, State Senator Lance Bell and State Representative Danny Garrett.


  • Pillion, Dennis (December 23, 2022) "Landfill fire near Birmingham still burning 28 days later. Now what?"
  • Archibald, John (December 28, 2022) "ADEM: Alabama Doesn’t Even Matter" editorial.
  • Koplowitz, Howard (December 29, 2022) "Possible punishment for Moody landfill fire won’t be given until underground blaze put out: State."
  • Pillion, Dennis (January 3, 2023) "Moody landfill fire declared state of emergency: Plan of action coming, St. Clair County leaders say."
  • Pillion, Dennis (January 6, 2023) "Moody landfill fire: Watch the stunning drone footage."
  • Pillion, Dennis (January 10, 2023) "How do you put out a landfill fire? Alabama county weighing options."
  • Pillion, Dennis (January 10, 2023) "Moody landfill fire likely ‘a crime scene,’ top county official says."
  • Crenshaw, Samuel Jr (January 13, 2023) "‘Is It Soup Yet?’: Engineer Submitting Plans for Putting Out Landfill Fire." BirminghamWatch
  • Pillion, Dennis (January 16, 2023) "Moody landfill fire: Class action lawsuit filed against ‘illegal unauthorized dump site’."
  • Pillion, Dennis (January 17, 2023) "Seven weeks in smoke: How Alabama residents are coping with Moody landfill fire."
  • "State requests EPA lead effort to put out St. Clair County fire" (January 18, 2023) Alabama Department of Environmental Management
  • Pillion, Dennis (January 18, 2023) "Emergency declared: Ivey calls on EPA to fight landfill fire raging in Alabama."
  • Pillion, Dennis (January 19, 2023) "EPA takes charge of Alabama landfill fire after finding carcinogens in air samples."
  • Pillion, Dennis (January 21, 2023) "EPA strategy for Alabama landfill fire: Smother it in dirt."
  • Gould, Cynthia (January 23, 2023) "ADEM records show Moody landfill cited for 'fire hazard potential' at least seven times"
  • Pillion, Dennis (January 26, 2023) "$2.8 million to snuff out Moody landfill fire, EPA now estimates."
  • Pillion, Dennis (January 27, 2023) "Air quality improving as EPA battles Alabama landfill fire."
  • Vincente, Chloe (February 2, 2023) "ADEM knew about Moody landfill fire hazard since 2013."
  • Pillion, Dennis (February 4, 2023) "EPA: Smoke from Alabama landfill fire should be gone in 3 weeks."
  • Pillion, Dennis (February 5, 2023) "ADEM: Alabama landfill fire shows ‘no discernable impact’ on water quality."
  • Pillion, Dennis (February 10, 2023) "EPA says three more weeks to finish fighting Alabama landfill fire."
  • Biertempfel, Maddie (March 3, 2023) "ADEM announces new group to study response to Moody fire, recommend improvements"
  • Pillion, Dennis (March 27, 2023) "Before the fire: How Alabama ignored warning signs at the Moody landfill."
  • Pillion, Dennis (March 27, 2023) "Moody landfill fire timeline shows problems before and after the dump caught fire."
  • Pillion, Dennis (April 29, 2023) "Moody landfill fire: Questions loom as EPA leaves the site."
  • Pillion, Dennis (June 24, 2023) "Alabama was ‘not equipped’ to respond to massive Moody landfill fire, state investigation finds."
  • Pillion, Dennis (July 20, 2023) "Alabama fines Moody landfill $250k after massive fire burned for months."
  • Pillion, Dennis (October 11, 2023) "Moody landfill on fire again, EPA battling smoldering sinkhole north of Birmingham."
  • Hedgepeth, Lee (February 2, 2024) "Will the Moody Landfill Fire Ever Be Extinguished? The EPA Isn’t So Sure." Inside Climate News

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