City can’t douse Iqaluit’s latest massive dump fire
Fire chief advises city to let smoldering “volcano” flame out
An uncontrollable fire burning deep inside Iqaluit’s overflowing garbage dump is like a smoldering volcano, measuring about 160 metres across and 10 metres high, the city’s fire chief Luc Grandmaison, said May 20 at an emergency meeting of Iqaluit City Council.
He said efforts to douse the latest fire at the dump — with added help from the public works department — proved futile.
With council’s approval May 20, Grandmaison and the city’s superintendent of public works, Joe Brown, concluded they should let the fire burn itself out, after attempts to douse the blaze with more than 64,000 litres of water failed to show any results.
Landfill employees alerted the fire department to the dump fire at 1:30 p.m. that day, Grandmaison said.
The blaze broke out on its own insde the dump, at the same location as three earlier fires reported this past December, January and March, he said.
The fire proved to be too much for the fire department to put out.
“It’s deep-seated,” Grandmaison said of the blaze, which broke out in a hot spot three metres beneath the surface of the largest garbage pile at the dump.
“If I can explain it as simply as possible, it’s a volcano underneath that pile, really,” he said.
Iqalummiut awoke on the morning of May 21 to the sight of a smoking hill on the other side of Koojesee Inlet.
Like earlier fires that occurred since last December, the blaze is not considered suspicious, the fire chief said.
“In a landfill there’s always decomposition. It’s smoldering. That’s how material decomposes,” he said.
Smoldering garbage under the largest pile brought flames out to the surface, which “started spreading uphill” in a location close to the dump’s utility garage, Grandmaison said.
“We were hoping to extinguish the fire quickly,” Grandmaison told council at the emergency meeting. “We thought it was very close to the surface.”
Unlike past fires at the site, firefighters failed to make any headway.
The fire department enlisted two city water trucks to direct some 17,000 gallons (more than 64,000 litres) of water at the blaze, according to Joe Brown, superintendent of public works.
Efforts to douse the fire that afternoon forced the city to temporarily suspend water delivery to homes, Grandmaison said.
“We did that for five hours, and then at one point, public works basically told us that we must provide water to citizens as a priority, and I believe it is a priority,” the fire chief told council.
Thermal imaging cameras showed garbage was burning three metres below the surface, he said. The garbage pile measures almost “40 metres deep” in total, from top to bottom.
Grandmaison recalled that the fire department and public works had dug a trench to isolate and extinguish a fire in the same troubled area of the landfill in December.
The department decided to use the same strategy, with help from public works and Nunavut Excavating, a private contractor.
This time the fire department called for complete separation of the large pile, which contains the burning hot spots, from the rest of the landfill. The city will leave the pile to burn itself out.
The strategy will not only keep the city from having to draw on the city’s water supply, Grandmaison said. It will also keep pollutants from leaching out of the landfill, and into the bay.
“The less water we use, the better it is for the environment,” he said.
Brown told council that the public works department is short on equipment, which created the need to call on a contractor to help isolate the fire.
Brown and Grandmaison could not say how long it would take to dig “fire-break” trenches around the affected pile.
The fire chief said that public works and contractors have completed “up to 80 per cent” of the fire-breaks needed “to keep the fire from spreading.”
Asked about effects on garbage collection, Grandmaison said the dump would remain closed until further notice.