On Dec. 9, 1995, the tire warehouse at 2116 5th St. NE went up in flames. The blaze ignited almost a million tires; two firefighters were seriously injured trying to extinguish it. The tire pyre smoldered for several days, and D.C. Fire Department officials called in the Environmental Protection Agency to assess the health hazard from the thick, toxic clouds of tire smoke.
Five months later, the sight is a reeking mess of frayed steel belts and charred rubber carcasses. “When it rains, you can still smell the tire smoke,” says a D.C. Public School transportation employee who works in the building next door to the tire graveyard.
It’s not likely that the wreckage will be carted off anytime soon. According to staffers in Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas’ office, the tire warehouse was rented by a recycling company that paid three months’ rent, collected the million tires, then vanished. The company disappeared so fast that no one in Thomas’ office even knows its name.
Harry Thomas Jr., who is working on the tire issue for his father, says, “Everyone wants to find these guys. I want to find them, [the owner] wants to find them, even the IRS wants to find them.”
Thomas Jr. says he’s been told the fire was caused by arson, but that charge can’t be confirmed because the Office of the Fire Marshal can’t locate a copy of the tire-fire report.
The 5th Street property is owned by Page Hufty, who has volunteered to pay $300,000 to clean up the tires. The Florida resident has yet to ante up. Hufty could not be reached for comment, but council staffers say he is cooperating with the city.
Still, it appears that both parties are doing a lot more back-patting than heavy lifting. The city has issued no official notice of the environmental hazard, nor has it given Hufty a deadline for cleaning up the 5th Street mess. —Alexis B. Rohde