Choking dump fire

2010-06-28 00:00

A MASSIVE fire at the municipal landfill, which engulfed the city in a dark cloud of smog at the weekend, has been condemned by environmentalists who say it released toxic emissions.

They added that fires should never occur at properly managed rubbish dumps.

Smoke billowed from the smouldering garbage at the landfill yesterday as firemen fought the flames, which were fanned by a breeze that carried burnt debris and soot across Pietermaritzburg and into nearby homes.

The senior controller for the fire department, Vis Ruthanam, said the fire was the product of a “spontaneous ignition”, which sometimes occurs at landfills.

“A dump fire is a terrible kind of fire,” he said. “These fires catch alight on their own because of the different types of materials rubbing together.”

Ruthanam said the entire department had been deployed to combat the flames, and the situation was under control yesterday.

But the fire department said later that last night’s rain did little to disperse the smoke.

The department was waiting for another grader, which would be used to churn through the garbage to extinguish the embers of the fire buried under metres of rubbish.

Ruthanam described the affected area as “massive”, and said the blaze had consumed the middle of the landfill.

Acting municipal manager Thokozani Maseko said the municipality will investigate the cause of the fire as “fires don’t just happen”.

He confirmed that fire engines and water tankers had been sent to the scene and that the fire had been subdued.

“The actual fire has been contained and the flames have been extinguished,” he said.

Despite the containment of the fire, environmental organisations expressed concern.

Musa Chamane of environmental group groundWork said more should be done to ensure landfill fires never occur.

“I really think that the municipality is not taking this seriously,” said Chamane.

“There is legislation as to how dumps should be managed and controlled, and it is not being followed,” he said.

Chamane said landfill management can be implemented in an environmentally sound manner, and he warned that the fire will have a big impact on Pietermaritzburg’s environment.

“This fire has already released toxic emissions, which could lead to complications like asthma and respiratory diseases.

“It is not safe for this to be happening,” he added.

Waste management expert Chris Whyte agreed with Chamane.

“Fires like this should never happen,” he said.

“If waste is properly managed and disposed of according to due process, this will not happen. There should never be a fire at a landfill site,” he stressed.

Whyte said the landfill is grossly mismanaged and does not comply with waste management regulations.

“The reality is that we have a landfill site which should be closed. We need to look at a new landfill site,” he said.

Whyte added that the municipality has “lost the plot completely,” despite numerous attempts by waste management experts to help the city to solve its problems.

“We are talking to new mayor Mike Tarr and administrator Johann Mettler and hope to revive plans to develop the city ecologically,” said Whyte.

Although the flames have been extinguished, experts say it may be days before the city is cleared of its smoggy pall.

Traffic warnings were issued for motorists to be cautious while driving through the thick smoke.

Paramedics reported no incidents of breathing difficulties.

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