“What is that?”
I try not to look like I’m talking to myself in public as a way of avoiding strange looks from my fellow pedestrians. On May 26 I couldn’t help it. It just slipped out.
Being the nice day it was, I decided to take a small road trip into Coralville. The sky was sunny and perfectly blue with only a few clouds as I was driving in. I made the obligatory stop at Barnes and Noble at the Coral Ridge Mall. After about 30 minutes of looking at what was new on the shelves, I headed to my car with the intent of getting a big plate of noodles at a nearby eatery. That’s when I saw it.
The still blue sky showed the thick cloud of black smoke coming from an area that looked to be a few miles south of my location. Apparently hearing my comment that I accidentally said out loud, a nearby man tried to be helpful and explain the cloud.
“There must be a pretty big field fire going on,” he said.
I politely thanked him without believing him for one second. I guess there is no way he could have known that I chase fires for a living. I also know what the smoke from a field fire looks like, and this wasn’t it. It was jet black, the color rubber gives off when it burns. Unless someone has a plantation of rubber trees in the area that I’m unaware of, this was something else.
Technically, we don’t cover Iowa City/Coralville. Still, once a reporter gets wind of something happening, it is hard if not impossible to stifle the urge to just let it go. I jumped behind the wheel of my car, the plate of noodles a distant memory, and turned the nose toward Highway 218 and the direction of the spot on the ground where the cloud was originating. I took a turnoff onto a side road where I learned something remarkable – I didn’t know my way around the Coralville area as well as I thought I did. Oh, well. I had a stream of smoke coming from a spot on the ground that was probably more visible than a flare to guide my way.
The two-lane road I ended up on had no shoulder and no lack of traffic. Coralville really needs to save up and improve that road. I got to a turnoff leading right to the cloud of smoke. Why it didn’t occur to me that there would be police officers doing “traffic control” at the street leading to the event is beyond me. There wasn’t even any place I could pull over and ask the officers what was going on. I did notice a sign reading “Iowa City Landfill” with an arrow pointing down the roadway toward the smoke.
Feeling disappointed I didn’t get the close look I wanted, I headed for home. Strangely, there is a spot on Highway 1 just outside of Iowa City where there is a wonderful view of the site. Even though the spot on Highway 1 must be several miles away, the smoke cloud was so big I could see it plainly. I couldn’t see the fire, but I knew it was there. While not a good thing, the sight of the massive cloud of smoke leaving the ground and floating into the air over Coralville was really something to see.
Of course, we know now that the landfill had caught fire. No reason has been determined yet and the fire is still burning after nine days and will continue even longer. The smoke cloud, which I’m guessing was the lining of tires, isn’t as pronounced as it was when I first saw it but it is still there. I’m hoping the powers that be are able to figure out a way to get this under control.
I remember seeing a shelf cloud coming into Washington in July 2007. While that wasn’t good, it was something awesome to see. The smoke cloud was the same. While some sights are better than others, this was awesome to see.