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Fire Smolders in Farm Compost


County firefighters were expected to work through the night Monday to extinguish a smoldering fire in compost at a Ventura mushroom farm that filled nearby neighborhoods with thick smoke.

Firefighters initially planned to let the blaze, which started in a large pile of compost at Pictsweet Mushroom Farm late Sunday, burn itself out, said fire spokeswoman Sandi Wells. But concern about acrid smoke prompted officials to change tactics and attempt to smother the fire by moving the compost around, Wells said.

The compost is used to grow mushrooms and is a mix of straw and horse manure, said Laura Morrison, controller at the mushroom farm. The fire started in a pile that was a quarter-mile long, 12 feet high and 300 yards wide.

By Monday afternoon, the smell of burning manure hit air ducts in north Oxnard neighborhoods.

Sarah Morrison, a student at Oxnard High School, said she could smell it all day. A few miles west, Lisa Lilienthal, a customer service representative at Kinko's in Oxnard, said a smell like burning trash permeated her office.

The blaze was probably caused by spontaneous combustion, Wells said. An investigator was still reviewing the area Monday to rule out arson, she said.

"There's nothing to suggest it was suspicious," Wells said. "This is very common throughout the county, especially after it rains."

A plume of smoke, visible from the Ventura Freeway, filled the air with a foul stench. Wells said the department has received numerous complaints and that the county's Public Health Department and the Air Pollution Control District are monitoring the blaze.

Fire authorities were called to the farm, at Olivas Park Road and Telephone Drive, about 8:30 p.m. Sunday and spent nearly two hours digging a fire break around the pile and setting up a water line in case it flared up, Wells said.

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