Towering inferno at dump

A massive fire broke out Tuesday afternoon at the George Town Landfill sending plumes of black and grey smoke hundreds of feet into the air and forcing the dump site to temporarily shut down.

Esterly Tibbetts Highway

Motorists and cyclists on the Esterly Tibbetts Highway had to drive through thick smoke from the landfill fire.
Photo: James Dimond

Flames were first reported around 2.50pm. Cayman Islands Fire Service officials said the fire was substantially extinguished by 11pm. A few hot spots sprang up through the early morning hours but they were all brought under control by 3am.

Trucks and cars were seen evacuating the landfill Tuesday afternoon. Cayman Islands Fire Service vehicles were on scene putting water on the fire late into Tuesday evening.

By Wednesday morning, no smoke was visible outside the landfill site. Fire crews were periodically checking the area to make sure the fire did not reignite.

The towering blaze sent smoke wafting over a section of the Esterley-Tibbetts Highway near the Camana Bay development. Tuesday afternoon, drivers were seen slowing down while they attempted to navigate the smoke covering the road.

No injuries were reported in the fire.

Flames broke out in a section of the landfill where residential garbage is processed. Early reports were that some trash that was still smouldering when it was discarded sparked the fire, but at press time inspectors had not ruled on what caused the blaze.

‘It’s anybody’s guess what happened,’ said Senior Fire Prevention Officer Doorly McLaughlin.

Mr. McLaughlin described the eight hour effort to get the flames under control as a ‘tedious task.’

‘It requires a copious amount of water,’ he said. ‘(The fire) gets deep-seated, and you have to get a lot of water going and then you have to use equipment to dig up (the garbage) and turn it over.’

Firefighters attacked the blaze by establishing a supply line from a direct water source, and also by ferrying trucks back and forth from the fire station where they loaded up with water and returned to the scene. Chief Fire Officer Roy Grant said five fire trucks and a trailer pump, along with nearly 30 fire fighters, were on scene at the height of the inferno.

Mr. Grant said compared to previous fires at the George Town Landfill Tuesday’s blaze was brought under control relatively quickly.

‘Some of the other ones, (the fire) was more deep-seated…the flames went 30-40 feet, way down (into the garbage),’ he said. ‘In my opinion, I think they’re doing a better job of managing (the landfill) as far as protection against fires.’

There have been several large, long-lasting fires at the landfill site in the past decade. Most memorably, a 6 December, 2004, fire broke out in the same area of the landfill and burned well into the next day. At the time, it was speculated that discarded trash or spontaneous combustion might have led to the fire.

Another huge landfill blaze that broke out on 15 November, 2002, started Friday night and burned through Monday afternoon. Smoke from that fire travelled as far as Sung Harbour on West Bay Road.

Mr. Grant said a landfill as large as the one in George Town is always a fire risk.

‘This is a landfill and you’re going to have some fires on it,’ he said. ‘We’re lucky that we can get them out, because there’s some places in the world where landfills burn for years and years.’

It was not immediately clear what environmental damage, if any, was caused by the fire. Mr. McLaughlin said the flames appeared to spread to 60-70 per cent of the exposed area of the trash mound that caught fire. The blaze did not spread to any other mounds of trash where things like tyres, or other types of waste are kept.

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