Department of Environmental Health Director Richard Simms said there are no guarantees that once the current landfill fire is doused there will not be another one.
“We can continue to compact it, put fill and compact it some more. Those things are preventative measures, [and don’t] necessarily mean that … it will never, ever happen because even with the most well-compacted landfill, you can still get fires,” Simms said on Monday at a briefing on the landfill blaze that Cayman Islands Fire Service and DEH crews have been battling since Sunday.
He said all it takes for combustion to occur is for air pockets to open up at the landfill.
Simms said the origin of Sunday’s fire, amid high winds, is unknown, but it started as a deep-seated fire.
“The landfill has … methane gas built up in it. It could be different combustions. There are things that are moving, all you need is a little pocket, a little friction, combustion, and the fire starts. The landfill could be on fire for weeks and we don’t even know until it raises itself and finds some way to the top and that’s on-the-surface fire; that’s when we discovered there’s something happening,” he explained.
He said once a deep-seated fire is detected, the DEH and Fire Service start to attack it from all fronts, smothering it with water.
Crews have been working on dousing the fire since Sunday, and on Tuesday they were still at it.
Chief Fire Officer Paul Walker and other officials were expected to decide late Tuesday afternoon whether evacuated residents from Lakeside Apartments and Watlers Drive could return to their homes.
Speaking at Monday’s briefing, Walker said crews have worked tirelessly to confine the fire to the boundaries of the landfill, but there is always a risk of the blaze spreading.
“But we’ve got appropriate resources deployed in the three sectors [of the fire], and they’re fighting the fire. We’ve now got good water supplies established,” he said.
Walker said DEH crews have been vigilant in looking for any signs of smoke at the dump, so there can be an early mobilisation of fire crews to douse the fire.
He said drone thermal imaging is done once a week at the landfill “which gives us an idea and indication of where there might be hotspots, so that we could come up and do some preventative work through damping down”.
Simms said the last major fire, which occurred in February, was at the recycling plant on the landfill site, adding that the blaze they have been dealing with since Sunday is a different type of fire.
He said high winds on Sunday had escalated the surface fire.
Simms added that, while the fire was a challenge, it did not affect DEH’s normal garbage collection and disposal service.
He said a new mound has been created at the site for waste disposal.