Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Iqaluit August 13, 2014 - 11:20 am

Iqaluit dump-dousing plan could begin Aug. 27: fire chief

Council agrees to host public meeting, request help from Canadian Forces

Iqaluit citizens’ group Iqalummiut for Action, represented by Christa Kunuk, Romani Makkik, and Sarah McNair-Landry (left to right), listen to how the city is addressing their concerns about the 12-week-old dump fire at a crowded city council meeting, Aug. 12. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)
Iqaluit citizens’ group Iqalummiut for Action, represented by Christa Kunuk, Romani Makkik, and Sarah McNair-Landry (left to right), listen to how the city is addressing their concerns about the 12-week-old dump fire at a crowded city council meeting, Aug. 12. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)

Iqaluit’s fire department will start on its plan to douse the city’s dump fire around Aug. 27 “if everything works right,” the city’s fire chief Luc Grandmaison told city council and concerned citizens at a council meeting, Aug. 12.

But city administrators and Iqaluit’s emergency and protective services department, which also runs both the firefighting service and the city’s ambulances, still has plenty to do before it can hit that launch date.

The city still needs to hire an industrial firefighting firm to help put out the blaze, and gather together a list of equipment including heavy construction vehicles, water pumps and industrial hoses more than two kilometres metres in length.

All are part of the fire department’s fire-extinguishing plan, completed July 22.

“We still don’t have the local resources to deal with this,” Grandmaison said, repeating to council what he first told them May 20, when the fire began. “We need the resources here, and they’re not here yet.”

Part of those firefighting resources will come from the territorial government, which promised $40,000 worth of pumps, hoses and containers for the operation.

Once firefighting contractors and equipment are in place, the extinguishing operation will begin.

Known by Iqalummiut as the “dumpcano” — a cheeky take on a comparison Grandmaison made in May between the dump fire and a volcano — the blaze is a smouldering pile the size of a football field, up to 10 metres high, close to three months old, and still spouts intermittent flames at various spots on windy days.

Efforts to extinguish the fire are beyond the territorial capital city’s means, which is why the fire department’s work focused on keeping the smouldering pile isolated and “contained,” Grandmaison said.

“I still maintain that we cannot sacrifice property and lives,” the chief said, reminding council and concerned citizens packed into the council room that his department handles the city’s calls for ambulances as well.

“The fire department responds to medical calls. We save lives on a daily basis — so how can we sacrifice this for a dump?” he said.

“Right now, we’re very close to assigning a contract [for added help] and I believe the right resources — human, material and financial — have been brought together as of last week.”

With the help of contractors, the fire department plans to extinguish the pile by continuously dousing it with seawater from Frobisher Bay and removing the top-most sections, piece by piece.

Estimated at $3.3 million, the operation must be carried out continuously without risk of equipment failure, to avoid cost overruns, Grandmaison said.

The fire chief’s update on the operation came in response to a call by Iqalummiut for Action, an informal citizens’ group which has requested that the city better inform residents on the dump-extinguishing plans and timelines.

“Today we have 84 days of toxins, and extinguishment will cost about $3 million,” said group member Christa Kunuk, pointing to residents’ persistent concerns about the dump fire’s never-ending smoke.

“This needs to be treated as a crisis,” Kunuk told council in a presentation with two fellow members of the action group.

“Despite the public service announcements and media reports of the fire, we are hearing a lot of concern and confusion about what citizens are being told and there are questions they want answered.”

At that, Kunuk and fellow members asked the city to hold a public meeting to answer resident’s questions related to the issue.

The group demanded the city pull together a list of officials involved in the dump-dousing plan, city waste management, and the assessment of health hazards “to provide specific expertise,” Kunuk said.

Included among them are Nunavut’s chief medical officer, members of the team contracted to put out the fire, and territorial and federal officials who could talk about the health and environmental impacts of the fire.

Council then tabled a motion to arrange such a meeting, which passed unanimously.

Noting that the Canadian Armed Forces will carry out their largest Arctic military exercise of the year, Operation Nanook, in and around Iqaluit from Aug. 20 to Aug. 28, the citizens’ group also put in a second request to the city.

Group members told council they wrote a letter to the Department of Defense, asking them to “turn this year’s Operation Nanook from a mock exercise” into “a real exercise” to put out the fire.

Following on this, Iqalummiut for Action member Anne Crawford asked council to meet with members of the Canadian military to see if they could offer resources to help put the fire out.

“Maybe they have equipment that we don’t know about,” she said. “We might as well ask if there is anything they could offer.”

Council responded with a second motion, which passed unanimously, to put in a request to the military.

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