'Spontaneous combustion' blamed for fires at Samborski Environmental compost plant

Firefighters in the rural municipality of Macdonald continue to battle a number of fires at Samborski Environmental that are believed to have been caused by spontaneous combustion.

'They are 100% at fault': Samborski says RM of Macdonald barred him from property in February

Firefighters in the Rural Municipality of Macdonald say for the past 6 weeks they've been battling flash flareups at Samborski Environmental Ltd., a composting plant in LaSalle, Man. (Tyson Koschik/CBC Manitoba)

Firefighters in the rural municipality of Macdonald continue to battle a number of fires at Samborski Environmental that they believe were caused by spontaneous combustion.

Reeve Brad Erb said crews have responded to at least four fires at the composting facility near Winnipeg, on Brady Road just south of the Perimeter Highway, in the past 10 days.

"It's been a tough one to get completely extinguished and we've had flareups over the last couple days," Erb told CBC News on Tuesday evening.

He said heat had built up in the composting material and spontaneously combusted a couple weeks ago. Since then fire crews have responded to a number of flash flareups thanks to dry conditions and strong winds.
RM of Macdonald Reeve Brad Erb said fire crews have been called to Samborski Environmental Ltd., in LaSalle a number of times in the past 10 days to keep smoke from flash fires from crossing over to nearby highways and obstructing drivers visibility. (Tyson Koschik/CBC Manitoba)

"It's not like it flares up and there's huge fires as much as there is just smoke, it's like a peat burning almost," said Erb.

He said the main concern is smoke crossing the Perimeter Highway and causing visibility issues for drivers.

"It hasn't because they've been keeping it under control but that's our main focus is maintaining the safety there."

'They are 100% at fault' says Samborski

"If we were working on the property on a daily basis this would have never happened in the first place. They are 100 per cent at fault at this," said Leonard Samborski, owner of Samborski Environmental Ltd.

Samborski has been in a zoning battle with the RM of Macdonald for about a decade over the Brady Road land where his composting facility is located. He said in February council passed a notice of contravention resolution order that Samborski said essentially prevented his family from being on the property. 

"Of course I'm concerned but what can I do?" an exasperated Samborski said. 

A firefighter sprays water on organic waste at Samborski Environmental Ltd. Tuesday evening after heat that had been building up in the composting material spontaneously combusted and caught fire. (Tyson Koschik/CBC News)
The RM has accused Samborski of operating a composting, landscaping and recycling business on land that is not designated for conditional use, which is against the municipal zoning bylaw. Samborski said the land has a designated environmental license and he has not broken any laws.

"Nobody has contacted me about the fires. If Advance [Electronics] had a fire there tonight don't you think the owner of business would be contacted sometime during the night?" asked Samborski.

He said the fire initially started mid-January in a pile of leaves but he managed to get it under control by mixing snow with the organic material. Samborski said he got a phone call on March 2 alerting him that the fire had reignited. He said when he go to the composting facility he found bylaw officers and the RCMP seizing his property.

"The fires got into the piles and we weren't allowed to manage them as we had been doing prior to the March 2nd raid," said Samborski.

"We had it under control with all the snow we were using, we had everything under control."​

"I think it's just probably an unfortunate circumstance about how this all played out and that's where, kinda where we're at," said Erb.

"Could they have done something? Well they weren't on the property so I don't think they initiated any desire for this to happen. It's just circumstances, I guess, led us to this and if we would have had rain and some wet weather in the forecast and reduced winds this likely wouldn't have been an issue," said Erb.

About the Author

Caroline Barghout

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Caroline began her career co-hosting an internet radio talk show in Toronto and then worked at various stations in Oshawa, Sudbury and Toronto before landing in Winnipeg in 2007. Since joining CBC Manitoba as a reporter in 2013, she has won an award for her work on crowded jails and her investigation into Tina Fontaine's death led to changes in the child welfare system. Email: caroline.barghout@cbc.ca