Firefighters from several area departments battled high winds and intense heat after a fire broke out Wednesday afternoon at Waco Wood Recycling & Materials, near the northwest side of Lake Waco.

About 1 p.m., regional fire crews were called to the business at 276 Antler Road after a mulch pile caught fire and high winds sent a hot ember into a pile of wood pallets, Speegleville Fire Assistant Chief Kevin Merritt said. Flames spread quickly, growing more than 25 feet high, and smoke and flames could be seen from across Lake Waco throughout the afternoon.

“When it gets hot out and the mulch pits aren’t rotated as much, they basically self-combust,” Merritt said. “There was a pile that started smoking, and with the wind today, the embers from that pile jumped over to a pile of wood pallets that they were going to mulch up. And once that lit up, it was all over.”

Merritt said one employee of the business and one Speegleville firefighter have been treated for smoke inhalation, but no life-threatening injuries were reported. No one was transported to a hospital.

A voluntarily home evacuation was issued for residents on McLaughlin Road to Cherokee Trail as a precaution. Merritt said fire crews had contained the fire, but firefighters were letting the blaze die down so it would be safe enough to put water on the flames.

He said the intense heat was a danger for firefighters.

“I don’t think there’s enough water in McLennan County to put this out right now,” Merritt said. “At this point, it is so hot that we don’t want to put anyone at risk.”

Recent calls to business

Speegleville fire crews have been called to the business several times in the past week for smaller mulch fires. Merritt said the combination of high winds and the large mulch pile that sparked the fire resulted in a much larger effort Wednesday.

“The wind is not our friend right now,” Merritt said. “We’ve actually been out here three times this week to help put out mulch fires, but fires this size do not happen very often.”

High winds and abundant flammable material at the business mean the fire is likely to continue burning overnight, Merritt said. The focus is on controlling spread of the fire, which is primarily confined to the business, he said.

Waco Wood Recycling & Materials offers mulch, hardwood, cedar, compost, topsoil and soil mixes.

Volunteer fire departments from China Spring, McGregor, Lorena, Valley Mills and China Spring assisted in the firefighting efforts, Merritt said.

The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory for McLennan and several other counties that was in effect until 7 p.m. It reported northwest winds between 20 and 30 mph, with gusts to 35 mph.

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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