BVI News

Still burning: 5 pumps malfunction trying to out Cox Heath fire

Seawater is pumped into the smoking pile at the Cox Heath dump on Tortola. This BVI News photo was capture days ago.

More than half of the fire department’s portable water pumps have malfunctioned because of continuous use to extinguish the three-week-old fire still burning at the Cox Heath dump.

“It is not a fire designed for firefighting but we were the ones that were tasked with it. A fire like this needs heavy-duty pumps that are capable of being in operations for days. But our pumps do not have that capability but they were still nonetheless put into service,” said Chief Fire Officer Zebalon McLean today, May 31.

“So far, we have problems with five of them (the pumps) and that may hamper our ability to respond in certain areas unless we can get them replaced.”

According to McLean, the fire department had seven pumps and had borrowed an additional one from officials in the neighbouring US Virgin Islands. However, only three are now functional.

“The plan will be as it always been – to appeal to the government for the purchasing of new equipment,” he said further.

Importance of the pumps

McLean said the pumps, which resemble a medium-sized refrigerator, are used quite often – especially during the hurricane season that officially begins tomorrow, June 1.

He said fire hydrants and service trucks are usually used during a house fire, while water pumps are important to extinguish fires in large areas. Chief McLean said the portable equipment is specifically used to pump water from the ocean on to a fire or to remove contaminated water from cisterns; particularly after a hurricane or storm.

While he was unable to state the exact cost to replace the pumps, the fire chief said the figure would be in the thousands.

Fire still challenging

As for the Cox Heath fire, McLean said despite working daily for the last few weeks and despite seeing a considerable drop in the volume of smoke, the challenge remains.

“Each time the heavy equipment uncovers another layer which would allow us to extinguish it and the material below it, then oxygen is released to the level below and along comes some plume and more smoke.”

“So, no matter what you do, the residents of West End will always be experiencing the smoke even though the overall amount of the smoke is significantly reduced.”


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  1. BVI Strong says:

    So it looks starting the fire has saved a lot of money! Genius all round, as usual. Roll on n independence!

  2. Walterene says:

    Mr. McLean to you the smoke has reduced but the toxic fume is overbearing on the North Western side of the Island I cannot speak for the Western side.
    On this side in the hill whether day or night it is very difficult to stay inside or outside of your house. Even if you wash and hang your clothes to dry when you take them off the line they are smelling Smokey. When I go to sleep I am awaken with this fume causing me to be unable to breath properly. Yesterday I has to wear a mask because the odor of the fume smell very unusual.
    It is sad to say but until the residents of these areas start dropping like flies then there will be a quick solution to this problem.

    • Einstein says:

      The fire at the dump is a metaphor of what is wrong with our country. 1) lack of leadership 2) lack of preparedness 3) lack of simple problem solving ability 4) lack of ability to respond to a predictable crisis 5) lack of empathy for those who are suffering. The ministers only care about large projects that they appear to personally benefit from. Many of these are forgotten before they are completed: 1) hospital 2) incinerators for example. We need constitutional reform. We need leadership.

  3. No nonsense says:

    Amen! Hallelujah! Lord help us! The minister for —– he don’t give a rat’s ass about the health of the poor people

  4. Mmmkay says:

    This has to be the first time in my life hearing someone saying “It is not a fire designed for firefighting”. When countries like the USA have whole forests burning with hundreds and even thousands acres of land, would the firefighters also try to justify themselves by saying – this fire is not a fire designated for firefighting? No. It’s your job and you have to do whatever it takes to stop the fire, without trying to justify that fire is not for firefighting. It’s a complete paradox statement. It’s like saying these pants are not for wearing. Yes, it might be very complicated with the limited resources the BVI firefighters have, but you can’t say completely dumb statements like that.Also, this is a good example as to how unprepared the BVI is in case a large forest fire breaks out.

    • Theo says:

      I don’t know, it’s a bit of a curious statement, but I think its a cryptic way of saying they as firefighters in the BVI are ill-equipped for fighting this type of fire.

      A lot of that goes on in the BVI, an almost Orwellian way of speaking to avoid addressing the core truth, talking around the issue.

  5. See says:

    How about doing your f—ing job and rebuild the pumps you have . Oh , you dont do your job and have extra parts on hand? Can we even describe something stupider ? This is why the BVI is completely incapable of taking care of itself . Lots of locals making lots of — for — work performance …and I am a local . Embarassing

  6. Sam the man says:

    3 weeks on and the fire is still burning? absolutely shambolic and what on earth does it mean when he says it’s the wrong type of fire – completely ridiculous ….we must be the laughing stock of the Caribbean – at least we are prepared for hurricane season tomorrow – NOT!

    • Consider says:

      There are fires that have taken years to put out, notably subsurface fires. There are specialist companies who deal with these. They don’t come cheap but they get the job done. This fire does not sound like it’s something within the fire department’s expertise, any more than manufacturing semi conductors. So why don’t we do this thing right and get help?

  7. Um says:

    1) any pump left to run dry or not looked after will fail,
    2) why not pay the people who have bigger pumos and better equipment like the two salvage companies on island.
    3)Get some inhibitor shipped in to mix with the water so it actually puts the fire out and break up the pile more to remove more of its fuel.
    4) Ask for help,, from people with more experience, a fire like this would not be left to smoke people out, either everyone would be evacuated or they would get the fire out.
    5) i agree with poster above – this will be why the BVI wont improve without a truck load of people gaining some humilty and realising they have to learn a better way.

  8. hmmmm says:

    Sick of all you people bitching about the smoke, fumes, or the fire. We the whole f**king country contributed to it when we dumped OUR GARBAGE there. None of US stepped up and said you know we need to start sorting while we dumping so that things dont get out of hand….but as always we are a reactive society….expecting everyone the government, the UK, the US, the rich, the poor to wipe our a*^%s instead of dirtying our hands and doing it our self. To the fire fighters, the heavy equipment workers, the owner of the land which is not government, thank you all for your efforts to get this situation under the control with the limited resources available.

    • Westside says:

      If you lived on the Western End of the island, you would understand stand why people have to be bit… Everyone does not have the luxury of temporarily relocating and the fumes smell even worst now! It is a serious health hazard and many persons may not even feel the effects on their health immediately!

      It is just a sad situation and I am not aware of anything as simple as supplying quality mask to residents being done. Everyone cannot afford to buy an air purifier and as you know everything on this island is limited.

      The Ministry of Health should being doing more in my opinion, not just taking a survey or saying call some number if you are being affected! I’m just fed up!

  9. Common Sense says:

    I thought these officer’s were trained to recognize different types of fires. Passing the area at night it is obvious there are electrical, chemical and various other types of fires. Common sense would dictate to use specific methods to combat each. Simply dumping water will not work.

  10. Joe Dlow says:

    Pumps out of oil . not my job.

  11. CW says:

    “not my job” should be the title of the newly independent BVI national anthem lolololol

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