Firefighters battle dump blaze for second day

Firefighters continued to battle a raging fire at the George Town landfill for a second day on Monday, competing with high winds as they tried to control the blaze.

Firemen were called in from various stations in George Town and West Bay to tackle the fire.

Chief Fire Officer Paul Walker, addressing a media briefing Monday afternoon at the George Town landfill, said fire crews will remain overnight into Tuesday morning to continue to control the fire.

He said it has been “challenging” managing the fire with the prevailing winds and the situation remains dynamic.

Residents who were evacuated from their homes on Sunday night, Walker said, will not be allowed back into their residences.

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“We certainly empathise with local residents, but you can see there is still a smoke plume here and it does vary in density, and until such time that smoke plume has ceased, particularly over Lakeside and Watler’s Road, we have made the decision that we recommend that they do not go back into their homes. I would hope we would make more progress overnight and tomorrow. But it is a continuing dynamic situation that we have to assess routinely over a two or three hour basis,” Walker said.

Premier Alden McLaughlin, who also spoke at the briefing, said he was at the scene of the fire for five hours on Sunday night and into the early hours of Monday morning, and what he saw looked “like hell”.

He said the conditions were “incredibly improved” Monday afternoon as he commended the firemen and DEH crews for their efforts.

“The risk that they take to ensure that the rest of us are able to live comfortably is something many of us take for granted,” McLaughlin said.

The Cayman Compass was told by officials that firefighters in Frank Sound were deployed to Spotts as backup should they be needed to respond to emergencies between North Side and George Town.

George Town South MLA Barbara Conolly, at the opening of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Youth Parliament in the Legislative Assembly Monday, said firefighting efforts have shifted from the Esterley Tibbetts Highway side of the dump to the Camana Bay side, to the part of the mound where the fire is concentrated.

“All resources from the West Bay station and the Central Fire Station were diverted to the landfill. The Frank Sound Fire Station provided cover to the rest of the island and [as] such moved two pumps to the cruise landing at Spotts to be closer to George Town and West Bay. The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service is also present at the site and all crews have worked through the night to contain and stop the fire,” Conolly said as she commended all those involved in the effort.

Twenty-seven Fire Service officers tackled the fire overnight and into Monday.

Home Affairs Minister Tara Rivers commended Cayman’s firefighters who battled the blaze over the two days.

She also spoke to the traffic congestion that left commuters trapped in gridlock for hours on Monday.

“Companies that have business continuity plans in place which facilitate employees working from home are encouraged to utilise such contingencies in light of the traffic situation into and out of West Bay during this time,” she told the Compass.

The Esterley Tibbetts Highway, between the Butterfield roundabout and the Camana Bay roundabout, was closed off to motorists Sunday afternoon, and it remained closed most of Monday, which led to gridlock in all directions during the morning commute and for hours afterwards.

The fire also disrupted several schools. Fears of the effects of a possible shift in wind direction led to the closure of Cayman International School, George Town Primary School, John Gray High School, Cayman Islands Further Education Centre, Cornerstone School, Early Intervention Programme at CIFEC, Little Stars Early Childhood Education Centre, Stepping Stones, the Transitional Unit at the George Town Primary School, and Triple C School.

Government services were curtailed as well. The Elections Office at Bay Town Office Suites on West Bay Road closed its doors to the public in the wake of the fire.

The civil service announced a “relaxed attendance policy” on Monday for parents whose children attend schools which were closed due to the landfill fire.

Some private businesses were also forced to close.

Kirk Market on North Church Street initially opened Monday, but closed after lunch, citing “poor air quality”.

The Wharf Restaurant on West Bay Road was planning to be closed Monday night.

Nearby, the wind brought thick smoke from the dump fire to Watler’s Road, leading to an evacuation of the area on Sunday night. Smoke was still lingering in the area Monday.

To accommodate the people evacuated from Watler’s Road, as well as Lakeside Apartments, shelters were opened Sunday night at the Red Cross and the John Gray High School gymnasium.

George Town North MLA Joey Hew, who visited residents at Watlers Drive on Sunday night, said that although the district was not under mandatory evacuation, he was suggesting people leave because the smoke was very toxic.

“In fact, if you’re sleeping, it can actually overwhelm you, especially elderly people or those with respiratory issues; it’s better safe than sorry,” Hew said.

A few people did require medical assistance, with the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority confirming on Monday that, since the major fire erupted on Sunday afternoon, four people had gone to the Cayman Islands Hospital’s Accident and Emergency Unit for treatment due to smoke inhalation. Two people were treated and released and the other two were continuing to undergo treatment.

The smoke stretched across much of George Town and even impacted port operations.

Acting Port Director Joseph Woods said the smoke affected anchorages two and three at the port.

“We sent ships further south of the port [to anchor,]” he said.

Six ships were scheduled to call on Grand Cayman Monday. However, on Monday morning, Caribbean Princess cancelled its call due to health concerns of two passengers while the Seven Seas Explorer and Berlin cruise ships opted not to stop in Cayman due to the heavy smoke from the landfill fire.

Cayman Islands Airports Authority CEO Albert Anderson said it was business as usual for the Owen Roberts International Airport Monday as air traffic control indicated smoke was not affecting flight paths.

It was the same for Cayman Airways as CEO and President Fabian Whorms said CAL flights were on schedule Monday.

Cayman Compass reporters Andrel Harris, Jewel Levy and Carolina Lopez contributed to this article.

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  1. Schools and kindergarten’ outdoor play equipment must be at least power washed, vegetation removed and ground surfaces replaced. Indoor surfaces must be lab tested for toxic contaminants including the most important(!) a/c equipment and ducts.
    Only after it is done and all tests come back negative, children should be allowed back to school.

  2. Landfill fires are difficult to extinguish. Simply spraying water on it will not prove successful. Heavy equipment needs to be brought in. The hot spots need to be dug out and the debris spread out and then doused with water.