IQALUIT, Nunavut – Government officials are to meet this week to consider a plan for putting out a dump fire that has been fouling the air in Nunavut’s capital for more than two months.
The city of Iqaluit just doesn’t have the $2.2 million it would take to quench the blaze and its nostril-searing smoke, said fire chief Luc Grandmaison.
“We’re asking them (the territory) to help us with resources.”
The fire began May 20 and has been dubbed the “dumpcano” — a term Grandmaison regrets having coined, because he feels it belittles the seriousness of the situation.
The combustion is centred somewhere deep within the massive pile of trash that is the Iqaluit city dump. The burning section — about the size of a football field and up to four storeys deep — is a smoky cauldron of untold numbers of household garbage bags.
There are no flames. But Grandmaison said the subsurface heat reaches up to 2,000 C.
The heart of the blaze is too deep for firehoses to reach. The pile of garbage is too unstable to attack with backhoes or other equipment. The best crews have been able to do is cut trenches through the garbage and isolate the burning section from the rest of the dump.
The fumes have at times closed schools and prompted health warnings. City council decided the fire couldn’t be allowed to burn itself out and turned to a landfill expert from British Columbia to help.
Anthony Sperling has proposed building a large pond walled by dirt and garbage and filled with seawater. High-extension excavators would take load after load of burning waste and dunk it in the pool to extinguish it. The waste would then be drained, flattened and stored in a new area.
Water from the quenching pond would be pumped onto the burning section of the dump to quell the flames expected to leap up as shovels bit in.
The work would continue for weeks until the garbage pile was no more than five metres high. Specialized industrial firefighting crews would have to wear respirators and splash suits to protect themselves from contaminated water.
Sperling said the problem is that the Iqaluit dump, commissioned in 1995, was supposed to be open for five years. It’s still in use, nearly 20 years later.
“It’s been stacked higher into very steep slopes to make it last,” said Sperling. “That’s created conditions that make it very difficult now to extinguish it.”
It’s the dump’s fourth fire since mid-December. In 2010, a blaze took six weeks to put out.
Iqaluit’s situation isn’t unique in Nunavut.
In 2001, Nunavut mayors pleaded with Ottawa for extra money to deal with dangerous dumps and lagoons. A 2004 report by the Conference Board of Canada made similar points, as did a 2010 consultant’s study for Environment Canada.
A 2011 estimate put the cost of modernizing all 25 municipal dumps in Nunavut at between $320 million and $500 million.
Sperling’s plan has been approved by Iqaluit city council.
The government of Nunavut and representatives from Environment Canada and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development are to meet with city officials to discuss it.
— By Bob Weber in Edmonton