Fire crews find hot spots at landfill

Firefighter safety a concern

Cayman Islands Fire Service and environmental health crews were removing a large slab of concrete from the George Town Landfill on Wednesday that may have been a contributing factor to fires flaring up recently at the site.  

Acting Fire Chief John Bodden said he could not pinpoint the exact cause of last Sunday’s surface fire at the landfill, but he said issues with waste disposal were contributing to flare-ups and deep-seated fires starting there.  

“[The concrete slab] didn’t cause the fire, but it was contributing because it was retaining heat. You could see smoke coming from that area,” Mr. Bodden said. “By the concrete being exposed to the heat for a while, it was retaining a certain amount [of heat]. The garbage on top of the slab was just house waste – paper and such.”  

Fire crews have long surmised that heat from certain objects stored at the landfill has led to spontaneous combustion within the large piles of trash contained there. Over time, the mixing of household waste products with other flammable materials have led to sizeable blazes, such as the one that occurred on Sunday, Mr. Bodden said.  

“That area [where the concrete slab was found] was used for oil disposal, but because of the expansion of the landfill, other [waste] has drifted over there now,” he said. “Some of the fires are so deep-seated it takes a while before it gets to the top. The majority of the time it is spontaneous combustion.” 

Premier Alden McLaughlin credited fire crews and landfill workers’ efforts between Sunday and Tuesday in monitoring the landfill site and watering down suspected “hot spots,” which may have prevented other fires from flaring up after Sunday’s incident.  

“Their quick action added to the improved management at the landfill and upgrades to equipment have improved our ability to minimize and prevent fires,” Mr. McLaughlin said.  

Preventing repeated fires at the landfill is not only a general public safety issue, but also a safety issue for firefighters, Chief Bodden said.  

“Safety of our staff is our number one priority and being exposed to fires involving the landfill does put our staff at great risk,” Mr. Bodden said.  

In one photo taken by the Cayman Compass at the scene of Sunday’s landfill fire, a fireman was pictured hosing down the flames with a piece of cloth wrapped around his mouth. He was not wearing a helmet or breathing apparatus.  

Mr. Bodden said this was not the result of lack of available equipment for the department personnel on scene.  

“All officers are provided with protective gear, helmet and gloves,” he said. “The officer attending that incident should have had on his helmet and respirator or his breathing apparatus.”  


Firefighters on the scene of Sunday’s landfill blaze. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay


  1. Concerned that, Some of the fires are so deep-seated it takes a while to get to the top I am wondering how many people are aware of the deep-seated fire-burning damage that this will eventually do to the Island Bedrock. The seventy five percent structure of the Island is primarily made up of Bedrock, coral stone marl and cliff rock. With some limited loamy soil in places like North Side, East End and Lower Valley.
    West Bay, George Town and Bodden Town, grow very little produce because of the Bedrock Coral stone marl and cliff rock.
    Now back to deep-seated burning. This was done on a small scale during the times back then, when people dug holes in the earth, lite fires in them to crack up the bed tock underneath for the purpose of building a pit toilet, or a water well.
    Getting to the point of my comments, are to ensure people, that constant deep-seated burning at a particular spot in the earth will eventually cause a caveat, making it possible that if we have a major earth quake or even a medium size one, that area which has damaged bedrock by deep-seated burning may split and crumble in the ocean.
    How long do we think this can go on. If one morning George Town wakes up and find that they are split in two pieces, kind a scary. The deep seated burning need to stop, not only in George Town, but anywhere else on the island it will still do the same damage. It is time we find a solution and stop the foot dragging.

  2. The state of this MINI-CHERNOBYL fire management is very clear from the last sentence of this article.

    An employer does not just provide protective gear, helmets and gloves (must be hazmat suits), they make sure no one is near the Dump without it.

    Can you imagine a firefighter in the U.S. or anywhere else, who forgot or chose not to use his bunker gear? Impossible!

    Is Cayman Islands Fire Service a professional organization? Their Job of the week description is a joke, their site is literally non-existent.,7856876_dad=portal_schema=PORTAL

  3. This dump, is in reality, a cancer pit that will cause irreparable harm to everyone living on this tiny island. Many have become complacent about it and think nothing will come of it. The leaching of numerous chemicals into the ground water system has arrived or will shortly. It is inevitable. Trying to find a solution at that point will astronomically expensive providing one can be found. But for many, the damage to their health will have already been done.There is also the issue of air pollution wafting around the island even when you cannot actually decipher an odor of smoke and who can determine when the deep seated fires will destroy the very foundation of this mess on top of it.It’s so very difficult to believe that nothing has been done and why the folks on this island aren’t raising the roof for this to be corrected. Goodbye tourists. Bring on the bottled water and face masks.

  4. The article is about firefighters!!! Their exposure to the Dump’s toxicity is astronomical!
    CIG has spent hundreds thousand on Ebola preparation and is sending UNPROTECTED firefighters practically into a gas chamber!
    What would happen when the Dump ignites in many places at once? How prepared are we for this scenario when fire management is done on Mom-and-Pop level?

    Good observation Twyla Vargas. No one wants a giant sinkhole to appear. What experts would say about this possibility?

    The problem with the open air landfill on this island is exacerbated by its SIZE and proximity to the residences. Landfill gases migrate from the landfill either above or below ground. Gases move through the landfill surface to the ambient air. Once in the air, the landfill gases can be carried to the community with the wind. Odors from day-to-day landfill activities are indicative of gases moving above ground. Gases also move through the soil underground and enter homes or utility corridors on or adjacent to the landfill. Landfill gas may form an explosive mixture when it combines with air in certain proportions.
    Uncontrolled burning of household trash and accidental fires at landfills are thought to be among the largest sources of dioxins.
    Dioxins Furans are the Most Toxic Chemicals Known to Science. The public health impact of dioxin may rival the impact that DDT had on public health in the 1960’s. There appear to be no safe level of exposure to dioxin.
    In fish, these toxins bioaccumulate up the food chain so that dioxin levels in fish are 100,000 times that of the surrounding environment.
    Men have no ways to get rid of dioxin other than letting it break down according to its chemical half-lives. Women, on the other hand, have two ways which it can exit their bodies:
    It crosses the placenta… into the growing infant;
    It is present in the fatty breast milk, which is also a route of exposure which doses the infant.

    But…if we do not see it, touch or smell, it doesn’t exist.

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