A local congressman lashed out at the Bureau of Indian Affairs Thursday over what he called a preventable 52-acre mulch fire that has blazed for more than two weeks on the Torres-Martinez Indian Reservation in Thermal.
Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, sent a letter to the director of the BIA demanding that the agency deliver a plan for cleaning up debris within the now-shuttered Sun Valley Recycling Center, the site of the Martinez Fire that sparked on Oct. 14.
According to Ruiz’s office, the dump site operated without a business permit for years, and the BIA failed to follow up on “repeated violations and trespassing orders” it sent to the site’s owners as early as 2015.
“None of this would have occurred if the BIA had worked to enforce the initial trespassing order almost four years ago,” Ruiz wrote his letter.
BIA officials did not immediately return a request for comment.
The dump has been the scene of several similar fires in recent years — two in October alone — with the latest causing classes to be canceled throughout the Coachella Valley Unified School District for a week due to hazardous air quality conditions.
Sun Valley Recycling Center was ordered by federal authorities to close two days after the Martinez Fire began.
The fire was 65% extinguished as of 12:30 p.m. Thursday, according to Bob Poole, a BIA spokesman assigned to the incident. He said the agency expects the fire to be fully out by Nov. 10.
Poole said piles of mulch ranging in height from 12 to 15 feet continue to burn from within. Crews are using excavators and bulldozers to spread out the piles in order to get water on the material still burning.
“It’s a long tedious process to get all the heat out of that material,” he said.
Poole said the decomposition of organic matter generally produces heat, but the cause of the Martinez Fire remains under investigation.