A storm? A plane crash? A volcano erupting?
Sun, sea, sand and smoke – thick black smoke billowing across the ocean and spewing a trail of ominous ash colored clouds into the sky – was the sight that greeted tourists in Grand Cayman Friday morning.
To Alex Smyk on Seven Mile Beach, it looked like a plane had crashed. To Tamara Minzett, handing out fliers to tourists in George Town, it looked like a volcano erupting.
Ted Miller, a retired New York firefighter, working out in the fitness suite on the upper deck of the Carnival Legend cruise ship as it pulled in to the harbor, recognized it for what it was.
“I could tell from how black the smoke was that it had to be either garbage, rubber tires or petrol burning.
“I was concerned if it was petrol, they might not have let us off the ship. After a while, they made an announcement and said it was just a garbage fire, nothing to worry about,” said Mr. Miller, visiting with his wife Ernestine Miller from Florida.
On Seven Mile Beach, tourists out for an early morning swim, said they thought, at first, that a severe storm was on the way.
Mike Khella, visiting from Toronto with his wife and children, said he was grateful that the winds had taken the smoke out to sea and not across the beach.
“I was out here at 7 a.m. with my son and we saw very large plumes of dark smoke. We talked to a local guy and he told us there was a fire at the dump.
“It’s a bit of a surprise and a bit of a disappointment to see that. If the smoke came across the beach and we could smell the garbage that would have been a bigger issue,” he said.
In parts of George Town there was a faint smell of rubber and garbage as the smoke continued to billow across Grand Cayman and out to sea.
By 11 a.m., as firefighters battled the blaze, the color of the smoke changed from dense black to light grey – barely distinguishable from the clouds and many tourists in the capital were unaware of the fire.
It had been a different story earlier in the morning, when Ms Minzett found herself fielding questions from concerned tourists.
“The smoke was really dark black – it looked like a volcano smoking,” she said. “My friend called me and said George Town is on fire. A lot of people were asking us about it, I told them it looks like the dump is on fire.”
Thomas Mason, at the Comfort Suite Hotel on Seven Mile Beach, said staff had encountered similar questions from guests throughout the morning.
“We were most grateful that the wind did not pull the smoke over the hotels and the main tourist area along Seven Mile Beach. Many of the guests were surprised, curious and also concerned as to what could cause such a large amount of black smoke on a small island,” Mr. Mason said.
Jane van der Bol, executive director of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, said the timing of the incident was unfortunate, with peak season just beginning.
She added, “The situation is quickly being contained and hopefully the smoke will clear soon so visitors can continue with their activities under clear skies.”
Air traffic controllers reported no immediate impact from the fire, with prevailing winds taking the smoke away from the airport.
“The fire at the George Town Landfill has thus far not impacted terminal services nor flight approach paths for Owen Roberts International Airports. Airlines are being informed of the fire by Air Traffic Services fire but none have as yet reported any interferences,” said a spokeswoman.