Pupils sent home on ‘smoke break’

2016-08-11 09:30
Members of the Pietermaritzburg Fire Department discuss the fire at the dump site on Wednesday.

Members of the Pietermaritzburg Fire Department discuss the fire at the dump site on Wednesday. (Ian Carbutt)

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As firefighters worked to contain the massive fire at the New England Road landfill site on Wednesday, some schools located close to the dump sent pupils home until further notice because of the health risks the toxic fumes posed.

Pupils from St John’s Diocesan School for Girls and St Charles College were sent home on Wednesday on the unexpected “smoke break” as a precautionary measure.

St John’s DSG principal Simon Moore said the school would be closed until a management meeting on Thursday, when they would decide whether to remain closed.

Moore said they had also made arrangements for the school’s boarders to be evacuated.

A parent of a St Charles College pupil said they were sent text messages by deputy principal Graham Stewart-Burger, notifying them that their children would be kept indoors for the day.

The text message informed parents that children would also be kept indoors, with the windows closed, during the lunch break as well.

“We were told that we could fetch our children if we wanted to, which I thought was the best idea considering the toxic fumes around the school,” said a parent who asked not be named.

Areas around Pietermaritzburg were blanketed by the smoke and toxic fumes emanating from the fire that broke out at the city dump on Monday night.

Residents took to The Witness’s Facebook page to complain about the acrid smoke. Those in Lincoln Meade, Manor, Willowton, Edendale Road and the Southgate area complained of the stench in the air.

Firefighters battled through Tuesday to extinguish the blaze, which threatened to ignite the entire landfill site.

By midday on Wednesday, they had made some headway, with deputy chief fire officer Juggie Padayachee saying firefighters had managed to contain the fire to the centre of the dump. “There is a 50 metre by 50 metre site in the centre of the dump that is still burning, but it is under control,” Padayachee said.

He added there was no immediate danger to residents living in close proximity of the landfill site.

“I also advised schools that there was no need to close or suspend classes, but the decision is up to the school management,” he said.

Six firefighters and one field officer were on duty at the landfill site on Wednesday, along with two fire engines, one carrying 16 000 litres of water and another carrying 2 000 litres.

The fire engines were being replenished by three Msunduzi municipal water tankers carrying 35 000 litres of water altogether.

“We are also using foam and water additives to douse the flames,” Padayachee said.

Msunduzi Water and Sanitation department manager Brenden Sivparsad said a management decision was taken that water tankers would be sent to assist the fire department.

“Although there were areas without water, the tankers were sent to assist the fire department as it was needed.

“Instead of fire engines driving to the nearest fire hydrant to replenish their water, the tankers provided the running service and delivered the water directly to the firefighters at the site,” Sivparsad said.

He added that the fire engines would ordinarily collect water from the nearby rivers, but “most rivers were dry” due to the severe drought.

Local hospitals were on alert for people coming in with respiratory problems.

“We are aware of the fire and toxic fumes in the air, but there has been no one coming to the hospital with respiratory problems related to the dump fire,” said St Anne’s Hospital spokesperson Shubnum Ismail.

• kailene.pillay@witness.co.za

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  pupils

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