Update, 9:10am, Friday: Firefighters remain at the George Town landfill this morning after bringing the fire that broke out at the dump yesterday under control.
According to an update this morning from the Cayman Islands Fire Service, fire crews and Department of Environmental Health staff worked through the night to contain and control the blaze.
“Three tactical sectors continued excavating and extinguishing deep seats of fire with a much-improved scene this morning,” a statement from the Fire Service said.
A second excavator will be provided today to help excavate and damp down the area to minimise the chance of any re-ignition, according to the statement.
Chief Fire Officer Paul Walker said, “I am immensely proud of the professionalism and dedication of my CIFS colleagues working hard to extinguish this large and challenging fire. Our work with partner agencies has been fantastic and together we have minimised the impact from the fire on residents and businesses in the landfill area.
“No injuries have been reported which is down to our focus on deploying crews using safe systems of work with effective incident command procedures.”
Update, 4pm, Thursday: Smoke from the landfill fire has diminished significantly, as firefighters continue to bring the blaze under full control.
The black plumes seen earlier today have dissipated and been replaced with white smoke.
According to the Fire Service, that smoke predominately includes steam from water used to extinguish the fire.
Fire crews will remain on site this evening to fully extinguish and damp down the affected area, officials said.
The Fire Service will hold a debrief and begin a full investigation once the fire has been fully extinguished, a statement issued by the Government Information Services noted.
Update, 2:22pm: Police have reopened the southbound lanes of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway to vehicular traffic as firefighters continue their efforts to extinguish the fire at the George Town landfill.
Update, 1:35pm: Fire Chief Paul Walker says wind conditions are posing a challenge to getting the dump fire at the landfill under control.
Walker, speaking at a government press briefing Thursday, said the blaze was contained within the scrap metal site and the Fire Service has made “excellent progress” in fighting the fire. He said there has been no reports of injuries at the site.
He advised that those affected by the smoke from the fire to keep all windows closed and turn off air conditioning units. Walker said it was too early to “speculate” what has caused the fire.
The fire chief said, with the wind conditions in the early afternoon, smoke was moving above the Esterley Tibbetts Highway and Lakeside Apartments, and then north towards Camana Bay and Watlers Road. “At the moment, because we’re getting significant water onto the fire, the smoke is lighter and the plume is a bit higher, which is a good thing,” he said.
He said fire crews are expected to be on the scene to keep hot spots at bay “well into the night”, but “in terms of the impact on local communities, I hope to see that diminishing by later this afternoon”.
The fire chief said George Town’s Central Fire Station had responded immediately to the fire, and Frank Sound and West Bay stations were on standby.
Walker said the tyre area of the landfill had been separated previously from the scrap metal site, as part of ongoing work to segregate areas of the dump, so it was unlikely the fire would spread to stacks of dumped tyres.
There were 25 on-duty and off-duty firefighters at the scene this afternoon, along with three tankers, two rapid intervention vehicles and two trailer pumps.
Police Superintendent Brad Ebanks, also speaking at the briefing, said the police helicopter has been monitoring from the air as well. Traffic has been diverted from the south-bound lane of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway into George Town, he added.
“This has caused congestion on Eastern Avenue and West Bay Road,” he said, “so I just want to say to the public to avoid any unnecessary travel.”
Director of Hazard Management Danielle Coleman said her unit had activated its Gold Command team and had been helping with making sure personnel at the site are provided with food, water and safety supplies, such as masks.
Two shelters – at the Red Cross and at the John Gray High School – are on standby in case the fire escalates and individuals are required to evacuate from the surrounding neighbourhoods. The John Gray shelter will also provide space for pets.
Update, 1pm: Fire crews are creating fire breaks to try to prevent the blaze spreading further at the landfill, Department of Environmental Health Director Richard Simms told the Compass this afternoon.
Work is continuing in damping down surrounding areas, he said.
Simms said the DEH had “no idea how this fire started,” adding that there had been no activity going on in that part of the landfill at the time the blaze erupted around 9:45am.
Update, 12:20pm: Fire crews are working on “four points of attack” as they battle the large fire at the landfill, officials said this afternoon.
Residents in the vicinity are not being ordered to evacuate at this time, but officials are advising that they use their own judgment on whether to leave their homes or businesses “if sufficient risk or discomfort presents”.
The fire, which broke out around 9:45am, continues to emit a huge plume of dark smoke that can be seen across Grand Cayman.
According to a statement issued via the Government Information Services at 12:15pm, the fire is contained within the scrap metal area, beside the Esterley Tibbetts Highway. Fire crews were establishing “four points of attack using defensive firefighting tactics and safe systems of work”.
All residents in the path of the smoke, which is blowing in a northwesterly direction, are being advised to close their doors and windows and turn off their air-conditioning unit.
All southbound traffic on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway is being diverted.
Earlier story: A fire has broken out at the scrap metal area of the George Town landfill.
Thick black smoke began emitting from the scene, next to the Esterley Tibbetts Highway, at 10am today.
Fire crews and Department of Environmental Health staff responded.
The nearby Cayman International School was evacuated and parents were asked to pick up their children as soon as possible.
Police initially blocked southbound traffic from Camana Bay to the Butterfield roundabout on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway as fire trucks and police arrived at the scene, but one of the lanes has now reopened to vehicles.
Cars passing the scene are advised to exercise caution.
Residents are being asked to avoid the area, if possible, and those living and working in the vicinity of the landfill are being advised to keep their doors and windows closed and turn off air conditioning units.
The police helicopter is monitoring the spread of the blaze from above.
Cayman Compass reporters at the scene said at 10:45am that the fire appeared to be spreading to vegetation debris beside the area where scrapped cars and other metals are located. DEH bulldozers were being used to try to move some of that debris to create fire breaks.
Around midday, the wind was carrying the smoke in a northwesterly direction.
Fire crews had been preparing to take part in a scheduled emergency aviation exercise on Smith Road when the dump fire broke out.
The billowing smoke, which is visible from George Town to West Bay, is reminiscent of the blaze at the landfill that erupted in early March last year, and lasted several days.
In that fire, residents of Lakeside Apartments, across the road from the landfill, and nearby Watlers Road, were evacuated. So far today, no residential areas have been evacuated.
Check back for updates on this developing story.
Compass journalists Andrel Harris, Reshma Ragoonath, Taneos Ramsay and Norma Connolly contributed to this article.