BY JAY JONES
CONYERS — Water. It was the key component in controlling the BioLab fire that firefighters never doubted. DeKalb County Fire Department Public Information Officer Eric Jackson said it best.
“We’re in a totally defensive position, and we’re putting mass quantities of water on the fire,” said Jackson at a morning press conference. “It’s basically BTU (British thermal units) versus GPM (gallons per minute).”
Rockdale Water Resources officials said the system did what it was supposed to do in supplying plenty of water for the fire department while maintaining service to customers.
Water Resources Director Laurie Ashmore said recent upgrades to the system worked flawlessly in keeping pressure up in the pipes. On average, county usage rates are about 11-12 million gallons per day. Ashmore said the added amount of water being poured on the fire should not have any significant impact on service countywide.
“We have adequate water and pressure to provide the fire department with what they need to fight the fire,” Ashmore said. “We have contacted adjacent jurisdictions and, if needed, they are ready to provide us with additional resources.”
Ashmore said the county water department has connections ready with DeKalb, Walton and Newton counties. Rockdale County is permitted to draw 22 million gallons a day from Big Haynes Creek, which is drawn from the county reservoir, Randy Poynter Lake, in north Rockdale County.
The monitoring of possible water contamination was done by Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) of the Department of Natural Resources, with air quality checked by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ashmore said her department worked closely with both agencies throughout the day.
“The EPA people are on site monitoring the situation, and we are providing them with any assistance we can,” she said.
EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers said there was little danger of chemicals reaching the general water supply, and that monitors focused on the site of the fire itself.
“We were more concerned near the site than anywhere else, because water being poured on the fire could end in a stream, a pond or whatever,” Chambers said. “The firefighters did a good job of containment.”
Chambers added that water in a ditch near BioLab tested high in pH levels that could have caused considerable damage to fish and other aquatic wildlife if it had drained into a stream. He said officials diked the ditch and pumped the water out. Tests of a nearby pond were negative for contamination.
The EPA had ground level monitors checking air quality in the area, as well as an airplane equipped with monitoring devices that kept tabs on the column of smoke coming from the fire. By mid afternoon, the chlorine in outlying areas showed signs of dissipating.
“The good news is that as of about 90 minutes ago (about 3 p.m.), at the U.S. 278 exit at Social Circle, there were no hits for chlorine,” Chambers said.