By Esther Durand, BVI News Staff
Roughly a week after the Cox Heath dump was deemed fire free, authorities responsible for compacting and clearing metallic waste at the site have faced yet another challenge – ‘hot pockets’ still smouldering beneath layers of debris.
These pockets have led to a number of spontaneous fire ‘flare ups’ when workers attempt to dig through the debris to clear the site.
General Manager at the Department of Waste Management, Greg Massicotte told BVI News on Wednesday (June 13) the discovery has now set back clean-up operations at the de facto dump.
He said on-site heavy equipment operators are now being extremely cautious and have scaled back the sorting process.
“We had about four machines digging into the pile and now we only have one,” he said, adding that the depth at which the equipment had been digging through the pile has had to be reduced.
Cox Heath a hurricane hazard, clearing imperative
Despite the setbacks, Massicotte said clearing the site is still paramount because the 2018 hurricane season already has begun.
“We needed to rid the site of items that can become airborne — in case of a major hurricane — as quick as possible,” he explained.
“But, at the same time, we have to be mindful of the re-ignition and eventual smoke that can occur and ultimately affect the people in close proximity of the site. The internal fire would eventually die … But, no one truly knows how long that would take because we are talking about over 130,000 cubic yards of compacted debris.”
Fire beneath can take up to a year to fully extinguish
Chief Fire Officer Zebalon McLean said, had the debris been left undisturbed, the remaining underlying fire would have died out on its own.
However, he suspects complete extinguishment could take at least a year.
On the other hand, Chief McLean said leaving the underlying fire to extinguish on its own could cause contamination of water supply.
While explaining how flare-ups are caused when the piles of debris at the dump are disturbed, Chief McLean said: “By pulling the material out from the dirt to make sure it gets crushed, the little bit of smouldering underneath would cause re-ignition once it came into contact with the air.”
Fire department still monitoring
Despite handing over the dump to the Department of Waste Management, fire officers still visit the site to perform daily checks.
He said the daily assessments are important and allow his department to respond quickly, should the fire re-ignite.
According to McLean, the last report submitted Wednesday morning indicated there was smoke escaping beneath the debris. However, there were no flames at the time.
The fire chief also said the smoke “dissipated as quickly as it rose.”
He further said small amounts of smoke remain in the immediate area but does not affect residents in the neighbouring communities.
The major Cox Heath fire that raged at the dump took close to four weeks to extinguish. The blaze is referred as one of the biggest dump fires on record.
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