Dump ablaze

About seven fire fighters work Monday afternoon to cool the area by spraying water on piles of burning garbage at the Hay River dump. Photo by Sarah Ladik NNSL

About seven fire fighters work Monday afternoon to cool the area by spraying water on piles of burning garbage at the Hay River dump.
Photo by Sarah Ladik

Fire fighters and a helicopter were called to the Hay River dump on Monday to battle a blaze ignited by the careless dumping of waste.

The solid waste facility caught fire at approximately 12:40 p.m. after a truck dumped flaming material onto a mountain of existing trash.

“Wind is my biggest concern right now. It’s already changed directions on us once,” said fire chief Ross Potter on the site, who worried the fire would spread to other areas of the dump.

David Jourdenais, who has worked at the dump on and off for more than a decade, said a truck-driver had radioed in saying his load was on fire.

Only a few minutes away, Jourdenais told the driver to dump the load for fear the truck would explode if he didn’t.

“This is the second big fire I’ve seen here since I’ve been here,” he said. “It just shows you have to keep your calm.”

The last major fire at the dump happened in May 2010 and lasted a week. Potter said fire fighters had to work shifts to keep the flames at bay and were continuously spraying water to cool off the area. That time, fire fighters were also brought in from Yellowknife to lend a hand.

While Potter said it was too early to tell Monday afternoon if this fire would be as tenacious as the last one, he did note that the department of Environment and Natural Resources had already sent out a helicopter to help quell the blaze and was monitoring the situation to determine if the water-bombers would be deployed.

Apart from the wind, Potter’s biggest concern was for the safety of his fire fighters and the 20 or so other people on the scene.

“Noxious fumes are a big concern,” he said. “My guys are wearing breather apparatus, but the ENR guys and the contractors don’t have that kind of equipment. Anywhere where there’s this kind of smoke, anyone breathing it could be at risk.”

Potter said burning garbage is bad enough, but with many people ignoring rules about the disposal of hazardous waste, the risk to those on the scene increases.

“People throw whatever out because they don’t want to deal with the hazardous waste disposal policies,” he said. “They just stick it in a green bag, which makes it invisible, and then don’t think about it again. There’s all kinds of stuff out here that is or could be dangerous to our guys.”

Both Potter and Jourdenais said there is a significant amount of hazardous waste mixed in with regular household refuse, including propane tanks and lithium batteries.

Potter confirmed the truck responsible for lighting the dump fire belonged to Hay River Disposals.

“It’s been a long time between fires like these,” he said, noting the municipality and Hay River Disposals, the contractor also responsible for the facility, have been working hard to manage the waste entering the facility.

Typically, dump fires burn down and can go underground in the well-aerated piles of trash, which makes them difficult to put out.

“These things can last a long time,” said Potter. “We’ll be out here until it’s out.”

Cpl. Greg Morrow, with the Hay River RCMP, said although the investigation is ongoing, there were no indications the fire is of a suspicious nature.

Mayor Andrew Cassidy said that while the fire itself was yet to be put out, the situation was under control as of Monday evening.

“Under the direction of our fire chief, the fire has been contained,” he said. “We have a lot of volunteers out there.”

While ENR had contributed a helicopter to the effort earlier, they were called away to another fire near Kakisa in the late afternoon, he added.

Hay River Disposals refused to comment on the incident.

-Sarah Ladik