Print Area recycling bins go up in flames
Written by Christopher Fox Graham   
Sunday, 18 September 2011 00:00

Four recycling bins and a trash bin in the Cottonwood area have been torched since July, costing local recyclers several hundred dollars to repair.

Three bins belonged to nonprofit Sedona Recycles while the fourth was owned by Rimrock-based for-profit Verde Earthworks. The trash bin was behind a strip mall southwest of the intersections of State Routes 89A and 260.

Cottonwood Fire Department Fire Marshal Rick Contreras said he is treating the fires as related and suspicious.

The three Sedona Recycles’ bins were burned over a five-week period, beginning with a bin near Mingus Union High School, according to Sedona Recycles Executive Director Jill McCutcheon.

Sedona Recycles’ first bin was set ablaze in early July. It was located at a drop-off site on Camino Real, across from  MUHS in the Verde Villages just outside Cottonwood city limits.

The drop-off site is surrounded by open fields and somewhat isolated.

No one noticed the early-morning blaze for quite some time resulting in heavy damage to the cardboard recycling bin before firefighters arrived, said Alex Rovang, Sedona Recycles’ director of Education and Community Outreach.

Rovang said parts of the bin were glowing red-hot, the heavy plastic lids melted and the cardboard was reduced to ash. Staff removed the bin, ground down the metal to removed the blistered paint, replaced the lids, repainted it and returned the bin to the site.

On July 18, a second fire took place in a another cardboard recycling bin at the full drop-off site located in the north end of the Wal-Mart parking lot. Rovang said store employees tried to put out the blaze with fire extinguishers before crews from CFD and the Verde Valley Fire District arrived.

Although the blaze was put out quickly, Rovang said the store employees told him the blaze reignited as if there was a fuel source or perhaps an incendiary in the bin.

Sedona Recycles staff again removed, repaired and returned the bin to the site.

A third fire struck a Verde Earthworks newspaper recycling bin at the company’s Sixth Street location, just north of State Route 89A on July 20 around noon. Kate Blevins, owner of Verde Earthworks, said she got a call from the Cottonwood Fire Department around 1 p.m.

Recycling bins have been vandalized by fire, including three Sedona Recycles’ bins across from Mingus Union High School and at the Cottonwood Wal-Mart store. A Verde Earthworks newspaper bin was burned at a location on Sixth Street in Cottonwood.The bin had recently been emptied, Blevins said, so the pile of newspapers in the container was only about a foot deep. Although the lids were totally gone, the damage was contained to the bin. Adjacent bins were about eight inches away and suffered no damage, she said.

Verde Earthworks pressure-washed the bin replaced the lids and returned it to the site. The cost was about $150, Blevins said.

“That was mostly in labor and time in trucking it back and forth,” she said.

Blevins said the fire could have been accidental.

In the recycling business for 22 years, Blevins said she has only seen one other fire, an intentional blaze in a roll-off about seven or eight years ago in Rimrock.

The trash bin behind a rental store contained broken furniture when it was set on fire before 6 a.m. Aug. 7.

On Aug. 18, a month to the day after the first blaze at the Wal-Mart location, the same Sedona Recycles bin was set on fire again, Rovang said. There are three cardboard bins at that drop-off site — the other two bins were not burned.

According to Cottonwood police, the store’s employees were in the parking lot around 4:30 a.m., some on break while others were retrieving shopping carts from the lot. They did not report seeing anyone in the lot but noticed a truck near the bins, which they reportedly assumed was emptying them.

At 5:16 a.m., Cottonwood police officer Aaron Scott responded to the fire before the arrival of Cottonwood Fire Department crews who put out the blaze.

Rovang said Cottonwood police are treating the fire as arson.

Scott spoke to the store’s security guard about cameras covering the parking lot, but was told they were not directed at the recycling site, according to the report.

The cameras were not aimed the bins, but they could have captured an image of the truck, Rovang said.

Sedona Recycles estimates the cost runs between $300 and $500 for each restoration, Rovang said, something the nonprofit can’t afford to pay for over and over.

Contreras said the blazes are under investigation by his department and the Verde Valley Fire Investigation Task Force.

Under Arizona Revised Statutes’s criminal code, reckless burning is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine. Additionally, those convicted of arson are liable under civil code for firefighting and police investigative expenses and could be open to civil lawsuits for property damage.

Anyone with information about the fires can contact the Cottonwood Police Department at 634-4246.