A fire that started in tires next to the Jan Davis Tire shop on Patton Avenue in downtown Asheville was intentionally set, according to the Asheville Fire Department. Davis said the blaze caused $200,000-$300,000 in damage. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: I see that there was a tire fire at Jan Davis Tire on the morning of April 7. I live up New Leicester Highway, and every day for years I have driven past J&W tires on New Leicester Highway. They have a pile of tires that numbers in the hundreds, at least, and are stacked all the way to the curb. My question to the Answer Man is this: What are the rules in Asheville or Buncombe County, if any, regarding the storage of old tires on a business property? These tires have been there for years now, and the pile has just gotten bigger and bigger. Besides the obvious fire danger, I would think that standing water collecting inside them is a great breeding ground for mosquitoes, and probably rodents, too.

Yes, only $1,500 a month

My answer: What I see here is an opportunity to shape these tires into small apartments renting for $1,500 a month.

Real answer: Yes, rules are in place regarding tire storage, with state laws dating back to the 1990s, as well as some tweaks this century. 

“The Scrap Tire Disposal Act outlines that up to 500 tires can be stored,” Melody Foote, a spokesperson with the North Carolina Division of Waste Management, part of the Department of Environmental Quality, said via email. “Above that level, the tires become a concern to human health and the environment. Scrap tire management in Buncombe County is the responsibility of the county.”

Buncombe County spokesperson Lillian Govus provided state law regarding the danger of a tire fire. That law says, “Tire storage shall be restricted to individual piles not exceeding 5,000 square feet of continuous area. Piles shall not exceed 50,000 cubic feet in volume or 10 feet in height.”

Tire dealers have to have some ability to store tires, as they’re swapping out dozens if not hundreds of tires a day. Under, “Prevention of a nuisance,” the state law says, “A maximum of 500 scrap tires may be stored on the premises of a retail business where tires are sold and/or removed.”

In the case of J&W, the business has been around for a long time, so it’s been grandfathered in regarding some rules.

“This business has functioned in its location since the late 1970’s,” Govus said via email, noting that fire codes have evolved and changed through the years. “If the business was to close for whatever reason, they would have to meet current codes that require separation distances from buildings; however, J&W Tires is exempt since this wasn’t adopted until 2004.”

Still, Buncombe County does work with J&W on its tire storage.

“The codes that apply to this tire storage are enforced, and we occasionally remind the owner to cut the storage back to 5,000 square feet,” Govus said. “They always keep them under the height required.”

I reached out twice to J&W but did not hear back by deadline.

Tire fires clearly are no joke. Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “does not consider scrap tires a hazardous waste,” fires are a different matter.

“…If a tire fire occurs, tires break down into hazardous compounds including gases, heavy metals, and oil,” an EPA information page states. “The average passenger car tire is estimated to produce over two gallons of oil when burned.”

All that oil can cause a lot of environmental problems, especially when thousands or even millions of tires burn. And once tire fires do get started, they can burn for days or even months because they have so much fuel.

The EPA listed two “Notable tire fires,” including a 1983 fire in Rhinehart, Virginia, that involved 7 million tires and produced “a plume of smoke 3,000 feet high and nearly 50 miles long with air pollution emissions deposited in three states.”

“The fire burned for nine months, polluting nearby water sources with lead and arsenic,” the EPA said, noting the site was ultimately listed as a Superfund cleanup site.

The 1999 Tire Fire in Westley, California // Photo: Environmental Protection Agency archives

The second fire the EPA listed was one caused by a lightning strike in 1999 in Westley, California.

“The tire dump contained millions of scrap tires located in a canyon in a coastal mountain range,” the EPA stated. “The large smoke plume from the fire impacted nearby farming communities and caused widespread concern of potential health effects from exposure to the smoke emissions. “

It also produced a large amount of oil, and that also caught fire. It took 30 days to extinguish the fire, the EPA said, noting that tire fires are notoriously hard to put out, with the best method being smothering them with sand or soil.

Outside the Jan Davis tire shop // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

As far as that fire at Jan Davis Tire, I stopped by the shop April 10 and spoke with Davis, a well-known figure in town who served 12 years on Asheville City Council.

The fire was started in a small pile of tires on the building’s east side, causing damage to the building Davis estimates at between $200,000 and $300,000. Remains of a dozen or so tires were strewn near the building.

“It was arson,” Davis said. “It’s very difficult to light a tire fire.”

Davis is correct on that score. Several sources online, including Utah-based ECO Green Equipment, a tire recycler, note the ignition temperature for a tire is about 750 degrees. That has to be sustained for several minutes for ignition.

The Asheville Police Department said in an April 13 press release that detectives “are seeking the public’s help in identifying the person who intentionally set a fire at a business on Patton Avenue.”

The Asheville Fire Department responded to Jan Davis Tire, which is in the 200 block of Patton Avenue, about 5:30 a.m. on April 7.

“When crews arrived on the scene, they located a stack of tires against the building on fire with an extension into the building,” the release states. 

If you have information, contact APD at 828-252-1110, or you can send an anonymous tip using the TIP2APD smartphone application (search “Asheville PD” in your app store) or by texting TIP2APD to 847411.

Davis said while it looks like much of the damage was outside, it extended to the interior of the shop, too. Also, a customer’s BMW was inside and sustained damage.

The business did not have a large number of tires stored on the side of the building, and Davis said his business complies with state law. Rich Davis, vice president of the company, said they don’t want a fire or mosquito hazard near the business.

“That’s why we’ve always paid premium dollars to get them removed,” he said.

This is a busy time of year for tires, and even though Davis has property and lost-business insurance, he’s still going to lose money. 

Jan Davis Tire has been in business for 38 years. The original building dates to 1953, with a remodel in 1976.

Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at  jboyle@avlwatchdog.org or 828-337-0941

2 replies on “Answer Man: Tire storage rules?”

  1. thanks for answering this question john. i wonder why when they get new tires dropped off everyday, the old ones are not picked up by the tire supplier to recycle or dispose of at that time. I also wonder why they charge a tire disposal fee for tires that are clearly not being disposed of in a timely manner. this location on new leicester hwy has looked like garbage for yrs. and cars pulling out of J&W tires can not see over the stacks of tires that are all the way to the street.

  2. Another great article of public interest. Another aspect of tire storage is the accumulation of water in junk tires and the possibility that mosquitoes will breed in the pools. With warming climates, that just increases the chance that mosquito-borne disease will spread. I going to get another COVID booster today. Maybe I should also ask for a yellow fever booster too!

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