Pietermaritzburg choked on a cloud of thick smoke on Sunday after a fire broke out at the New England Road landfill site. The blaze started in the morning and the firefighters were still trying to extinguish it by late Sunday afternoon.The cause of the fire remains unclear. Thobeka Mafumbatha, Msunduzi municipal spokesperson, said the matter was being investigated.Areas around the city including Ashburton, Edendale and Athlone were covered in smoke, which left people struggling to breathe.One firefighter‚ who did not want to be named‚ said a small team was battling to contain the fire with limited resources.“We only have one or two trucks operational and they’re not in a good condition. We are chronically short-staffed,” he said.The firefighter added that noxious fumes were being emitted from the dump and that since firefighters were fighting the fire without proper safety equipment it was a big concern.He confirmed that the cause of the fire was not known, adding: “It could be spontaneous ignition, or it could have been started by scavengers picking through the dump.”Lou Corbitt, a Hayfields resident, said: “It’s the worst we’ve ever experienced. The entire Hayfields in covered in thick white smog.“When I got back from church, I told my wife to close the doors and windows because I could barely breathe.”Another Hayfields resident, Elaine Langlois, said the ongoing fires at the dump site had affected her 35-year-old daughter’s health. Langlois, who has lived in the area for 20 years, told The Witness that her daughter was currently on three sets of antibiotics due to respiratory problems.She added: “It’s been an ongoing thing and there’s no solution to it. My daughter is on continuous treatments and our doctor mentioned that it is the dump. “He [the doctor] has over the past few years noticed an increase in respiratory conditions in patients who live in Hayfields.“This morning it was terrible. My daughter actually had a friend pick her up and they left town. It was uncomfortable and she was struggling. Even with the doors and windows closed, we couldn’t breathe.”Another resident, Koushik Mahara, said: “From around 4.30 am we have been battling in the area. There have been complaints because we have a few elderly people and they were battling to breathe and this is an ongoing problem.”Another resident, who asked not to be named, said the smoke was so thick that she could barely see two cars in front of her on the road. “Standing from the corridor looking out onto the field there’s definitely a funny smell, it doesn’t smell like a wood fire. It definitely has that plastic smell to it,” she added. Her comments were echoed by an Ashburton resident who said the smoke was so bad they couldn’t see the N3 from the Lions Park off-ramp to Ashburton. “It was completely dark with no clean air to breathe. The black smoke just covered everything,” added the resident.