By Jesse Wood
March 4, 2013. At about 10 a.m. two Saturdays ago, Bill Wilkinson, owner of Grandfather Trout Farm, watched as the Linville Volunteer Fire Department flushed their pumps of firefighting foam into two drains behind the ABC store in the parking lot of Lowes Foods in the Tynecastle Shopping Center.
He estimated that, on Feb. 23, 200 to 300 hundred gallons of water with the foamy substance were flushed into the drains. When the first drain overflowed, the second drain caught the extra runoff.
It took 15 hours, Wilkinson said, for the foam to travel from those drains to his trout farm along the Watauga River in Foscoe. As of Sunday – yesterday – Wilkinson said that a “little” bit of the foamy residue was still noticeable.
Daniel Dugger, a volunteer fire fighter with Linville, confirmed that his department flushed the foamy substance into the drains after fighting a house fire in the Seven Devils area.
“We used the foam on a fire a couple weeks ago, and we had to flush our pump,” Dugger said.
He added that the volunteer fire department did not “necessarily” choose to use the Tynecastle Shopping Center as its flushing grounds.
“That was the closest hydrant we had,” Dugger said, adding that the substance is non-toxic and non-harmful and that the National Forest Service uses it when they do airplane drops over wildfires.
“It doesn’t do anything to the environment. If it was toxic or harmed the environment, we couldn’t use it,” Dugger said. “I’ve been doing this for 12 years now and have used it all the time. I’ve got it all over me and it’s never bothered me.”
Still – toxic or not – Wilkinson is concerned about the river and the fish.
“That’s the headwaters of the Watauga River. That’s where it all starts and they let all that foam go into the river,” Wilkinson said. “You can’t put probably 300 to 400 gallons of that right in the headwaters of the Watauga River. Seems like you could find a better spot to put that foam – perhaps in Linville. Put if further down where it gets some flow, but if you put it in the beginning, that can’t be good for the fish.”
He added, “I am sure the riverkeeper will agree with that.”
Upper Watauga Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby didn’t return a phone call immediately on Monday morning.