Tire fires, where tires are stored, dumped, or processed, exist in two forms: as fast-burning events, leading to almost immediate loss of control, and as slow-burning pyrolysis which can continue for over a decade. They are noted for being difficult to extinguish. Such fires produce much smoke, which often carries toxic chemicals from the breakdown of rubber compounds while burning.
Tire fires are normally the result of arson or improper manipulation with open fire. Tires are not prone to self-ignition as a tire must be heated to at least 400 °C for a period of several minutes prior to ignition.
Extinguishing tire fires is difficult. The fire releases a dark, thick smoke that contains carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and products of butadiene and styrene. Burning tires are heated, and, as they have a low thermal conductivity, they are difficult to cool down. Moreover, they frequently burn inside even if they are extinguished from outside, and easily reignite when hot. One possible remedy is to cover the fire with soil, reducing the supply of oxygen and the exhaust of smoke. After extinguishing and cooling down (which may last several days), toxic chemicals can be neutralized.
In Northern Europe new and used tires are stored in large warehouses also known as tire hotels. Fire is a growing concern, and as tire fires are difficult to extinguish regular sprinkler systems are not sufficient. Inert gas extinguishing systems like INERGEN in combination with a effective detection system would be the preferred choice for protecting these warehouses. Test for establishing the minimum design concentration (MDC) are currently be performed in Denmark.
Notable tire fires
Some notable tire fires include:
- 1983 – Seven million tires burn in Winchester, Virginia, for nine months, polluting nearby areas with lead and arsenic. The location was cleaned up as a Superfund project from 1983 to 2002.
- 1984 – A pile estimated at four million tires, known locally as Mount Firestone, ignited in Everett, Washington, and burned for months as the fire department was unable to extinguish it.
- 1989 – In Heyope (near Knighton, Powys, Wales) a fire involved approximately 10 million tires burned for at least 15 years.
- 1990 – In Hagersville, Ontario, a fire started in a pile of 12 to 14 million tires; it burned for 17 days and forced 4,000 people to evacuate.
- 1996 – An arson in March at an illegal tire yard underneath a section of I-95 in Philadelphia caused $6 million in damage and completely closed a section of the highway for weeks and partial closures for six months. 
- 1998 – A grass fire ignited the 7 million tires at the unlicensed S.F. Royster Tire Disposal Facility in Tracy, California. It was extinguished, after 26 months, with water and foam in December 2000.
- 1999 – On August 21, arsonists ignited the former Kirby Tire Recycling facility, containing an estimated 25 million tires located on 110 acres (0.45 km2) near Sycamore, Ohio. The fire burned for 30 hours, involved over 250 firefighters, the Ohio National Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and caused significant environmental damage. The fire was controlled and finally extinguished in part by covering it with dirt. In the intervening years the EPA has performed a massive clean up effort on the site.
- 1999 – Lightning struck a tire dump in Westley, California, which burned for 30 days. Pyrolitic oil flowed into a nearby stream and also ignited.
- 2012 – On January 27, 2012, a massive tire fire sparked at a tire recycling plant in Lockport, New York, causing dangerous amounts of soot and smoke to burn over the city for over 22 hours, causing serious damage to many homes.
- 2012 – In Jahra, Kuwait, a five million tire fire erupted on April 16, 2012. The fire was thought to be started deliberately by scrap metal hawkers looking to recover scrap metal.
- 2012 – In Iowa City, Iowa, at approximately 6:45 p.m. on May 26, 2012, a fire started in the ground tire bedding material at the Iowa City Landfill, involving at least 7.5 acres of landfill. It was finally extinguished on June 12, 2012, after a "stir, burn and cover" operation. 
- 2012 – Tire fire protests erupted all over Lebanon. Protesters used burning tires to cut off main roads in Lebanon.
- 2013 – Tire fire ignited in Nassau, Bahamas. The poorly managed municipal dump has had multiple fires and finally resulted in a tire fire on August 13th.
- 2014 – Tire fire ignited in Savannah, Georgia on February 8th, 2014.
- 2015 - On August 18 in northwest Oklahoma, a tire fire in a large pile of tires next to the premises of A&T Tire and Wheel set the exterior of the business ablaze, but crews prevented flames from getting inside.
- 2015 - On August 18, a fire in Oregon disrupted the Warm Springs Tribal Reservation. Erroneously referred to by locals and news media as a "tire fire", the blaze caused by the sparks formed from a recreational vehicle driving on a bare rim has engulfed more than 60,000 acres of land at the reservation.
In popular culture
- The Simpsons features a recurring location (which is visible in the opening sequence) called the "Springfield Tire Yard", which is always on fire, except in a few choice episodes where it has been extinguished. (Once it was bulldozed into a sinkhole.) However, it never stays permanently extinguished and is seen burning in following episodes.
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