Govt mulls solution ‘once and for all'
The Pembroke Dump fire could have been started by a carelessly discarded cigarette, according to a Government waste manager.
Allan Hunt said tree clippings piled up in dry conditions might easily have been set ablaze by the smallest of sparks on Thursday night.
The dump blaze of 2007 self-ignited because Government allowed horticultural waste to pile as high as an eight-storey building, dubbed Mount Everest by residents.
But Mr Hunt ruled out such a cause for this week's blaze, which firefighters continued to tackle yesterday.
“The waste was in small piles this time, and it just so happened this particular night that a fire started,” Mr Hunt, solid waste manager for Works and Engineering, told
The Royal Gazette.
“Could it have been carelessness on behalf of someone? Truckers come here to dispose of horticultural waste. It's hard to say, but it could have been a very careless disposal of a cigarette butt.
“It can happen that easily. It's difficult to mitigate against that.”
Huge flames dominated the skies in Pembroke and Devonshire for several hours on Thursday night, with fierce winds fanning the fire and carrying thick smoke over hundreds of homes.
The biggest area alight was about 200 feet by 60 feet, with another six small fires across the dump as a result of the wind spreading embers.
More than 60 fire officers brought the blaze under control on the night, with smaller numbers continuing the dousing yesterday.
As Marsh Follow continued to smoulder through the day, National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief advised residents fearing tank water contamination or other fire damage to check in with Government.
Anyone who may have a claim as a result of last night's fire should collect and return a notification form from Public Works in the Government Administration Building.
“Homeowners will be contacted by representatives of the Government's insurers, who will review the claim,” Mr Perinchief said.
Emergency shelter, showers and meals were also offered at the Berkeley Institute gymnasium, starting last night.
Public Works Minister Michael Weeks said the “vast majority” of fires had been put out, with the scorched areas of the dump being turned over by heavy machinery and soaked down with water pumped from the marsh.
Mr Weeks advised truckers who normally bring plant waste to dump at Marsh Folly to use the Government Quarry at Bailey's Bay as a temporary drop site.
Health Minister Zane DeSilva, meanwhile, said King Edward VII Memorial Hospital's emergency department had treated “a few individuals” with respiratory complaints. By the afternoon, however, no further admittances were reported.
One firefighter was briefly treated for smoke inhalation, after being caught by a sudden change of wind direction.
A Bermuda Hospitals Board spokesman reported that four members of staff, three of them asthma sufferers, had been affected by smoke.
Other hospital workers, including security guards, wore masks. A total of seven attended emergency for smoke irritation.
Asked if Government had any plans for the dump, such as harnessing the site for alternative energy, Mr DeSilva said: “Without letting any secrets out too early, not only Government but also the Ministry of Public Works have been in discussions with some entities with regard to hopefully, once and for all, eliminating this problem.” He declined to elaborate.
The Ministers commended all who contributed to fighting the blaze, including private water truckers who volunteered their services.
Buzz Café staff joined in at Marsh Folly, bringing food and drink to members of the Bermuda Regiment.
Although high winds fuelled the blaze, it was another, welcome turn of the weather that helped contain it.
At a press conference on the scene yesterday, Fire Chief Vincent Hollinsid declared himself thankful for the rainfall in the early hours of Friday.
“A lot of people in the area prayed for rain, and we were glad it came,” he told the media.
Mr Hollinsid and Acting Premier Derrick Burgess praised firefighters for their bravery.
“As usual, they went above and beyond the call of duty, to ensure this fire was brought under control in a reasonable time,” Mr Burgess said.
CedarBridge Academy, Prospect Primary, Prospect Preschool, Devonshire Preschool, Victor Scott Primary School, Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy and a child development programme on Palmetto Road were all closed yesterday due to smoke damage.
Lou Matthews of the Education Ministry said all will be assessed over the weekend with a view to reopening on Monday.
The Department of Environmental Protection at the Botanical Gardens was also closed yesterday but is expected to reopen on Monday.
The deadline for the annual fisheries licensing period will be extended until 5pm on Tuesday as a result.
Environmental Health officials advised residents to lock their gutters to prevent smoke getting into their water systems, and to drink bottled water until tests have been carried out.
Mr Weeks, who is also the MP for Pembroke East Central, said he still hopes the dump can be turned into a public park “one day”.
Mr Weeks told this newspaper the Ministry had learned lessons from the mistakes of previous years, and that piles are now not allowed to get above 20 feet or so.
Mr Hunt said: “We are looking at reducing the amount of horticultural waste to this site. A lot of this waste can be utilised in our waste energy plant. It's all part of going forward. But we are 22 square miles and there are 65,000 people producing waste.”
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The Health Department advised anyone whose home is still affected by smoke to block their gutters and keep contaminants out of their potable water system.
Residents who suspect smoke from Marsh Folly may have affected their tank water should drink bottled water.
Individuals with pre-existing heart or lung conditions are advised to be extra vigilant, and families should be attentive to young children or senior relatives.
Health Minister Zane DeSilva advised: “Over the next few days, we may see an increase in symptoms for those predisposed to allergies and asthma, or reactive airway diseases.”
Environmental Health will be “shortly conducting random water testing” in areas hit by smoke, he said.
“Individual tank water assessments are not indicated at this time, but will be addressed when the acute situation has been fully addressed.”
Anyone with concerns can reach Environmental Health at 278-5333.
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