What was described as a “sizeable surface fire” at the George Town Landfill was reported early Sunday afternoon.
The blaze, which started in a large pile of residential waste near a big pile of discarded tires, appeared to have been brought under control by press time Sunday.
However, fire crews remained on scene late Sunday, awaiting the arrival of an excavator. The construction equipment was needed to dig into the trash pile so that firefighters could ensure nothing was burning underneath the surface.
The Cayman Islands Fire Service does not have an excavator, but government officials believed the Department of Environmental Health, which manages the landfill site, did have one.
Ministry of Home Affairs officials, the ministry which manages the fire service, said it was not immediately clear what started the blaze.
Wispy, low-lying clouds of whitish-gray smoke were spotted wafting over the two-lane section of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway by 1 p.m. Sunday, causing drivers to slow down and rubber-neck their way through the smog. Gray plumes from the fire could be seen for miles early Sunday afternoon.
In terms of size and duration, Sunday’s fire was small in comparison to separate incidents in December 2013 and February 2014 when the George Town Landfill burned for 12 hours or longer.
On Dec. 20, 2013, a massive tire fire sparked by what officials believed were propane tank explosions burned for half a day, sending a dark black, miles-long column of smoke over Seven Mile Beach.
On Feb. 11, 2014, an even larger fire in terms of area broke out at the landfill. That blaze took two days to extinguish.
The deep-seated February 2014 fire, in a large residential trash pile at the landfill’s southern end, was more difficult to battle since five pieces of heavy equipment normally used to fight fires or mitigate the occurrence of fires were out of order. Then-Health Minister Osbourne Bodden said at the time that two bulldozers, a trash compactor and two excavators normally available to the dump site were broken down. Some funding was removed from other areas of the government’s 2013/14 budget, including the National Museum’s budget, to pay for equipment for the landfill site.
Other recent fires
In late-July 2014, another major fire broke out at the landfill, this time not quite as visible to the public because it was largely underground.
In that blaze, fire crews battled a deep-seated fire from July 18. It was finally brought under control on July 24.
A smaller fire broke out the weekend of Aug. 1-2, but still required a few more days for firefighters to extinguish. At the time, Acting Fire Chief Roy Grant said he believed that various materials were exploding beneath the surface of the trash mound, leading to fires that eventually broke out on the surface.
“There is a situation of spontaneous combustion taking place down there, and it could flare up at any time,” Mr. Grant said. “I don’t think this will be the last one to see. It’s a battle, and we are doing the best we can under the circumstances.”
Less than two weeks later, on Aug. 16, fire broke out again at the landfill.