Iqaluit dump fire “inevitable,” fire chief says
City ponders controlled burning of garbage
The fire at the Iqaluit city dump was “inevitable,” Iqaluit Fire Chief Walter Oliver told Iqaluit city council at an emergency meeting Sept. 27.
“We’re been running on luck for this thing for a long time,” he said.
“You take such a vast quantity of combustible material and pile it up and something’s going to happen,” he told Nunatsiaq News in a later interview.
Councillor Mary Wilman agreed with Oliver’s assessment.
“It’s dangerous and we were expecting this kind of thing to happen,” she said.
Asked about a way to limit the risk of such a fire happening again in the future, Oliver suggested smaller, more dispersed piles.
“If you’re going to store it like this, instead of a single large pile, you should have smaller piles that you can deal with one at a time,” he said.
But that would require more landfill space, something Iqaluit is chronically short of.
Asked if there was any way to sort the garbage so that it is less potentially flammable, Oliver said public works already does that well.
The pile now burning is limited to construction debris and is roughly 85 per cent wood.
However, much of the remaining 15 per cent consists plastics and mattresses and upholstery, if which the latter two contain metals.
Smoke from burning metal and plastic is toxic.
But it could have been much worse, Oliver said, if sorting hadn’t been done.
“If you got a bunch of tires on fire, that’s a real problem.”
Nunatsiaq News asked Public Works Superintendent Frank Ford for his recommendations for reducing the risk of dump fires in the future.
Ford said the city would either have to deliberately burn small amounts of garbage daily, or face occasional uncontrolled blazes like this one.
Wilman asked if public works was going to start doing that. Ford said that decision was up to the people of Iqaluit.
Acting as chair of the meeting in Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik’s absence, Deputy Mayor David Ell said that any such decision on whether to do controlled burnings would come to city council.
Iqaluit stopped controlled burning at the landfill in 2002 after years of complaints from residents about the smell and health impacts of toxic fumes.
At the time the council considered buying an incinerator to burn garbage at higher temperatures and thus more cleanly, but backed off out of concerns of cost and health impacts from the emissions still produced.
Instead the sanitation committee decided to get a compactor to concentrate the garbage in a smaller area, extending the potential lifespan of the landfill to at least 2012 if combined with recycling.