What Seven Million Tires Look Like

Ransom Riggs

Photographer Edward Burtynsky has spent much of his career documenting mankind's "manufactured landscapes," from mines and quarries to massive engineering projects that are mind-boggling and dwarfing in scale. My favorite series of his looks at tire piles, a particularly ugly and toxic form of waste, largely because they can self-ignite into poisonous fires if stored improperly, which burn from the inside-out and can take years to extinguish.

This tire pile in Northern California burned after being struck by lightning in 1998, and so much oil was released as a result that it flowed into a nearby stream -- and then that caught fire.

It took nearly ten years to clean up the mess. Back when these photos were taken, it was estimated to be the biggest tire pile in the western U.S.

69,000 tons of tires in just four acres of land, piled six stories deep in some places. The bottoms of those piles had been smashed completely flat.

These photos were taken back in the 90s. These days, massive tire piles are less common because states have taken measures to recycle more and more old tires, turning them into paving material and incinerating them (without releasing smoke) to create power. So scenes like this are a little harder to come by: