More garbage trucks catching fire as homeowners clean out clutter

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DENVER (KDVR) — If you are doing some extra spring cleaning around the house during the stay-at-home or “safer at home” orders, be careful what you throw away.

Waste Management says it is seeing an uptick in garbage truck fires, likely due to more people tossing out hazardous materials. 

Items like batteries, pool chemicals, paint thinner, lighter fluid and propane tanks can ignite or explode due to friction when they are smashed down in the back of the truck. 

Coals and ashes can remain hot for several days. They can cause a fire in your trash bin or in the trash truck. 

“They’re definitely more common than you would think,” Waste Management residential driver Ryan Schwindt told FOX31. 

He says there is typically a surge in truck fires in the summertime. However, they have seen more throughout March and April. 

“I actually had one about a month and a half, two months ago,” he said. 

Schwindt says he was in the middle of servicing homes when he noticed a strong smell of smoke.

“When I looked up in my hopper camera I noticed the flames in the back of the truck,” he said. “They were probably four to six feet.”

When a fire is detected in a truck, drivers try to move away from homes and cars to an open area like a large, vacant parking lot. 

“We try and suffocate the fire. We try and put it out using the blade itself, try and cut all the oxygen off,” Schwindt said. “If we cannot suffocate the fire, then we eject it out of the truck.”

In his case, he dropped the load in a parking lot and firefighters extinguished the flames. 

Not every case ends as well. 

“I mean, the trucks can explode. With all the chemicals from natural gas to diesel fuel, our hydraulic fluids those are all very flammable,” Schwindt said. 

Waste Management says it is rare to lose an entire garbage truck to a fire. However, the company says it would rather sacrifice a truck than risk a staff member’s safety. 

“If you’re not sure about something, just ask your driver,” Schwindt said. 

If you have flammable, combustable, corrosive, toxic or poisonous items to throw away you must use a hazardous waste service. Most cities and counties offer hazardous waste services once per year or by appointment. 

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