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Fire or landfill flame? Motorists can’t tell the difference in Chemung County

  • / Updated:
  • Staff Report 

Motorists driving along I-86 near Lowman have frequently mistaken a large flame from the Casella landfill for an emergency, leading to numerous 911 calls. This flame, visible from the highway near exit 58, is a controlled structure used for methane gas dispersion at the landfill, and is not a cause for alarm.

Chemung County Legislator Rodney Strange highlighted this issue on Facebook, noting the flame will continue burning for another 18 months to two years as part of Casella’s energy project with the county. Officials are exploring ways to inform the public about the flame to prevent unnecessary 911 calls.

Larry Shilling, Vice President of Casella Waste Systems, explained that the flare, standing almost 40 feet tall, is a critical safety feature of the landfill. It collects methane gas, a greenhouse gas, from the landfill and burns it off to control odors and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Chemung Volunteer Fire Department, led by Chief David Dobrzensky, has responded to 18 calls in 2023 regarding the flame, mistaking it for a structure fire. These calls strain resources and impede the department’s ability to attend to actual emergencies.

Current signs along the highway indicating the presence of the “landfill flame” are easily missed, leading to confusion. Legislator Strange suggests more prominent signage as a potential solution, including signs on private property adjacent to the interstate.

While acknowledging the landfill flame is not a reason to call 911, Chief Dobrzensky emphasizes the importance of calling 911 in case of a real fire or emergency. The department received its first call about the landfill torch on January 2, 2024.