Landfill grapples with injured worker, massive trash fire

Fire crews, working side-by-side with a pair of front-end loaders like the one pictured here, contained a serious fire at the landfill earlier this month. Local excavator Mike Madsen operated one of the loaders during the fire suppression efforts; only a week before he used a track hoe’s bucket to scoop an injured landfill worker out of a deep pit after the worker had rolled into the pit while operating another front-end loader.


Landfill grapples with injured worker, massive trash fire


Robert Stevens

Managing editor



MAYFIELD—Catastrophe was averted twice in one week at the White Hills landfill last month, both times with the help of local excavator Mike Madsen.

The first incident was Tuesday, May 23, when longtime landfill worker Gil Burningham backed a front-end loader into a deep pit.

“We think one sides of the pit was soft,” said landfill gate-scale keeper Ronda Adair. “He backed up to it in the loader, and the whole thing went in.”

A worker called 911, while rescuers went into the pit to check on Burningham. But Adair says the pit was too deep, steep and soft for them to carry Burningham out.

That’s when Madsen was called. He happened to be working nearby. Madsen scooped up the injured worker in his track hoe bucket.  “They got him in the bucket, and Mike lifted him right out,” Adair said.

An ambulance transported Burningham to Gunnison Valley Hospital, and from there to Utah Valley Hospital where he was admitted to the ICU for treatment of concussion, brain hemorrhage and a broken shoulder. Burningham is home now recovering.

A week later, Madsen again proved to be invaluable when a garbage fire flared up in the middle of the night on June 1.

Adair says the fire ignited in the early morning hours, and firefighters from the Gunnison Valley Fire Department had to break open the gate lock to get in.

“Trash fires can get real bad,” said Adair. “This was one of the biggest I have a seen here.”

Trash fires happen from “internal combustion,” a thermal reaction caused by the breakdown of refuse as it decomposes.

Landfill staff again called in Madsen, who worked the fire with his loader alongside another one brought in by landfill operator Larry Hansen.

Adair says it took them and fire crews a couple of days to fully contain the blaze. Charred remnants were still visible Tuesday.

At one point, one of the loaders itself caught on fire, probably from burning oil, says Adair.

For part of one day as fire crews, Madsen and landfill staff worked to put out the fire, Adair says a small stormfront came in, and the rain on the burning trash caused the landfill to be covered in a nasty smoke.

“It smelled like burning trash and smoke for the whole day it rained,” Adair said.

Charred, smoking bits of refuse still remain on Tuesday, June 13, left over from an internal-combustion trash fire that broke out at the White Hills Landfill on June 1, and which took fire crews and two front-end loaders several days to contain.