The owner of a Watertown tire recycling firm may face criminal charges for a tire fire at his facility last summer.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced Oct. 12 it has referred the case of Watertown Tire Recyclers L.L.C. and its owner, Thomas Springer, to the Wisconsin Department of Justice for alleged scrap tire storage and permit violations.
Springer told local newspapers that either a spark or internal combustion ignited the July 19 fire. It took five days, 100 to 125 firefighters and 30 tanker trucks to extinguish the blaze.
Approximately half the chipped and whole tires stored on the property-equivalent to about 650,000 passenger tires, according to the Wisconsin DNR-were destroyed in the fire. So were the Watertown Tire Recyclers facility and a house next door that Springer owned but did not occupy.
Springer only had storage permits for 200,000 passenger tire equivalents on his property, according to Gene Mitchell, waste team leader at the DNR office in Fitchburg, Wis. The site also had insufficient fire lanes between the scrap tire piles, Mitchell said.
This wasn't the first time that Springer, who produced tire-derived fuel and other scrap tire materials at his company, had been cited for improper tire storage. The Watertown Fire Department issued warnings to Springer as early as 1997.
In April 2005, the Dodge County Board of Assessment ruled Springer in violation of his permit and ordered him to clean up his property. The following month, a group of neighbors sued Springer to force him to comply with the 200,000-tire limit.
Vicki Zick, Springer's attorney, filed an appeal of the Dodge County ruling in May. That appeal was still pending when the fire broke out. Zick could not be reached for comment on the DNR action.
There is no timetable for the Justice Department to act on the Watertown complaint, Mitchell said.