Without County Waste Services, Trash Fires Become Problem On Crow Reservation

Aug 1, 2019

Crow firefighters contained their fifth dumpster fire of the season today in Pryor. It’s part of a trend following the discontinuation of county trash pick-up.

Big Horn County stopped providing solid waste services on the Crow Reservation in 2016. That’s according to a source at the County Commissioner’s office, who said the county couldn’t afford to continue service after the Crow Tribe failed to pay an $800,000 bill for three years.

A spokesperson for the tribe confirms that the government owed that amount, but said they were unfairly charged for all services in Big Horn County, not just for those used by the tribe.

The spokesperson said the Tribal Housing Authority has placed canisters in communities for waste disposal.

But now, Tracy Spang, says those canisters have become a problem for him and his firefighters at the Bureau of Indian Affairs Forestry and Wildland Fire Management in Crow Agency. Spang is an Assistant Fire Management Officer. 

“The trash is collecting, and people are now starting to light these canisters, or illegal dump areas on fire,” Spang said.

Earlier Thursday, he was at a canister fire in Pryor. He said it spread to about a quarter of an acre but is now contained. A three-man crew remains to monitor it. He said this is the second canister fire in Pryor this fire season, and he expects more to come.

“Now all the local trash areas are starting to pile up and we’re expecting more of these canister dump fires,” Spang said.

He said there’s another trash heap next to the Pryor fire from early today that he hopes no one will try to burn.

He said his crew plans to come back and mow grass so that another fire will have trouble spreading, if there is one.

Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America corps member.