What happens to the rubble left behind by Gatlinburg wildfires?

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GATLINBURG (WATE) – As the fires in Gatlinburg are nearly 100 percent contained, crews are working to clean up the damage left behind. More than 2,400 buildings were damaged or destroyed in the fires. The debris pile at the Sevier County Solid Waste Facility is expected to grow as officials estimate the fires caused $500 million in damage.

All this has left some with questions about the health and environmental impacts of all this debris and how it’s being handled.

On a normal day, Sevier County’s solid waste site receives about 300 tons of trash and debris, but since dump trucks started hauling in debris from fire-damaged buildings in Gatlinburg, 1,500 tons a day are being received at the waste facility, dumped in a special area.

“It’s mostly demolition type material, so you’ve got ashes from the fire, and you’ve got some metal-type studs and insulation type stuff,” said Tom Leonard, Sevier County solid waste director.

Trucks carrying material from Gatlinburg have been traveling to the waste site for two weeks. Close to 200 trucks pass through the gates each day.

“The main thing we don’t want is appliances, like big metal items – water heaters, refrigerators and stuff,” said Leonard.

The site was carved out of a ridge so the debris would be separated from other waste at the facility. It is located 1826 Ridge Road in Pigeon Forge.

“We wanted to make sure it was separated, just in case there’s anything that might be hot on there. The state felt that was important,” Leonard said.

Leonard says the dump site is temporary and what they don’t want brought there is asbestos, a known carcinogen.

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