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Improper Disposal of Heater Causes Small Fire in Garbage Truck

Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021
Public works employees Walson Williams (right photo, left) and Graham Dodson look over the remains of a kerosene heater that was improperly disposed of with residential trash and that started a fire in a town garbage truck.

A new Hillsborough public works employee got some training by fire this morning, Jan. 14, after he and his trainer had to extinguish a small fire in a town garbage truck. The fire was caused by an improperly disposed kerosene heater.

Equipment Operator 1 Walson Williams, who started work for the town last month and is undergoing training, was driving and operating the truck with Equipment Operator 2 Graham Dodson supervising. The two noticed smoke coming from the back of the truck after turning onto Union Street. Williams stopped the truck’s compaction plate from moving garbage to the back of the truck, and the two then extinguished the fire and removed the heater from the truck.

Interim Public Works Director Dustin Hill commended the two employees for acting quickly and said the fire could have become larger if Williams had not stopped the truck’s packer.

Police Lt. Andy Simmons added, “Without this duo’s quick actions, we could have lost a trash truck, damaged the road, and — heaven forbid — had someone injured. They deserve a large amount of praise for this great work.”

The kerosene heater, which had an automatic igniter and batteries still in it, had been improperly placed in a garbage rollout cart. The truck, which has a sidearm to pick up garbage carts and dump their contents inside, sustained no damage. A replacement truck is about $300,000.

Batteries and fuel tanks are among items the town does not collect for disposal within garbage carts or through monthly bulk items pickup. Items that are not collected are listed on the town’s Garbage Collection webpage. They are: batteries; fuel tanks or fuel cans; hazardous, medical, shock-sensitive or radioactive waste; chemical byproducts; pressurized containers; used oil; and construction or demolition materials. Cardboard and plastic bottles other than oil bottles also are not collected because they must be recycled.

Residents should contact Orange County Solid Waste Management for information on how to recycle or dispose of items that the town does not collect. Call 919-968-2788 or email