Fire fueled by tire mulch under overpass sparks questions

Black smoke billowing from homeless camp could be seen for miles

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After a fire that ignited Saturday at a homeless camp under an Interstate 95 overpass quickly got out of control because it was fueled by tire mulch, News4Jax wanted to know where else transportation officials have used that mulch.

A homeless person was cooking when the fire sparked under I-95 near McCoys Creek and spread to the ground covered in tire mulch. The dark smoke could be seen for miles.

According to the Florida Department of Transportation, the mulch, which is similar to rubber mulch used in lawn maintenance, was placed under four overpasses during the “Big I” project several years ago to help with erosion control. The mulch is under the I-95 southbound ramp to I-10 westbound over Forest Street, the I-95 southbound overpass over McCoys Creek and two bridges on I-95 northbound over McCoys Creek.

The tire mulch is made of recycled tires that are broken down into tiny pieces to look like wood mulch.

News4Jax wanted to know how fast the mulch could catch fire, so the Fire Academy of the South demonstrated that an amount small enough to fit in the palm of a hand could ignite in 5 seconds and burn for 10 minutes.

“Rubber mulch is much more dense, so what you have is a surface burn, much like a charcoal briquette, so it will continue to burn, and it burns off the surface, and then when you’re done, you’ll just have an ash remain to it,” said Chief Sheldon Reed, director of the Fire Academy of the South.

And as a hydrocarbon product, the smoke from tire mulch fire is toxic.

FDOT officials said the bridges are inspected biannually. Smoke stains remained under the overpass Wednesday as police officers removed the homeless camp from under the bridge and a cleaning crew cleared the area.

In a statement, an FDOT spokesman said people living under the bridges has been a continual problem:

“The issue of the homeless around Florida bridges has been an ongoing issue for FDOT, and while this area in question is fenced and locked, FDOT will continue to work with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and our contractors to make frequent sweeps of these areas and keep it clear of debris, and ensure that people are kept from areas they aren't supposed to be.”

News4Jax asked if the tire mulch will be removed from under the overpasses and bridges following the fire. FDOT officials said they will review the incident and see what changes, if any, can be made. 

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