Several firefighters who helped fight a brush fire at an old mill site south of Payson Saturday, suffered minor smoke inhalation and could have breathed in toxic chemicals including arsenic abandoned at the site.
The Shumway mill site, located north of the Oxbow Estates, off Forest Road 208, was deserted years ago. Mining equipment, sheds and contaminated tailings including arsenic, copper, lead, mercury and zinc were left behind. Although the Environmental Protection Agency cleaned up the area, the site was capped off from future use due to contamination concerns
On Saturday, a small brush fire started at the site around 8:30 a.m. The Payson Fire Department and Forest Service responded and began pumping water onto the blaze, which had spread to half an acre due to high winds. “It was starting to spread pretty fast because of the wind,” Payson Chief Marty deMasi said.
As crews battled the blaze, several became sick from the smoke and had to step away. These firefighters were treated on scene with oxygen.
deMasi said once they realized hazardous chemicals were potentially still on site from the milling operations, they pulled crews back to a safe distance. By 9:20 a.m. the fire was under control.
Along with roughly half an acre, several old sheds and tires burned. The fire was likely human caused, but is still under investigation, deMasi said.
Firefighters that complained of smoke inhalation will be “checked out further” to make sure they did not suffer damage from the potentially toxic smoke, deMasi said.