Dump fire still burning in Hay River

The fire at the Hay River landfill site, which began on March 3, was still burning as of March 16. Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
The fire at the Hay River landfill site, which began on March 3, was still burning as of March 16.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

A stubborn fire at the Hay River landfill site was still burning as of this past weekend.

The fire was first noticed as smoke from underground on March 3, and flared up on March 9.

“We’re making progress,” said Deputy Mayor Robert Bouchard, who is the spokesperson for the Town of Hay River on the fire.

For one thing, a system – using high-volume pumps and an approximately 1,100-foot-long hose – has been set up to pump water from the Hay River to douse the fire, eliminating the need for tanker trucks to be driving back and forth from town.

Bouchard described the fire as pretty stable.

“We’re hoping we’re in a downhill fight here with it,” he said.

The fire is contained to the east side of the dump, where there is predominantly household garbage and construction material.

The fire is still being fought by excavators picking up burning material, which is doused with water, put down and doused again, particularly to cool down burning metal.

“Time-wise it takes a fair bit to put the fire out. It’s a fair size fire,” said Bouchard, although he could offer no information on the exact size.

It is unknown how the fire started.

Bouchard could not say when the fire might be out.

“We don’t have a time right now,” he said. “It’s going to be a while before we completely bring the metals down to a temperature where they’re not igniting more material. So we’ll probably be there for a while. I think we’re in control right now, but putting the main fire out now is still the next few days here, and then after that I think we’ll be putting water to it for a while just to make sure that we don’t have a re-ignition. Spot fires have been coming up in some of the burnt areas that are already there.”

Bouchard said that could be a week to 10 days at least.

A section of the landfill containing old tires has not been impacted by the fire.

“The tires are quite a ways away from the system, and we just put a couple of feet of snow on top of the tires just to mitigate that risk, obviously,” Bouchard noted. “We have a capital plan to remove them this summer. Now we’re looking at doing it sooner, and looking for funding to do that sooner.”

The tires are several hundred feet away from the fire.

Since the fire began, the landfill has been closed to the public.

However, there are dumpsters for people to drop off domestic garbage at the weigh scale across Highway 5 from the landfill entrance and at the front gate.

Regular garbage pickup service in the community hasn’t been interrupted.

“The contractor still has the ability to go in there and dump,” said Bouchard. “We just closed it because of all the traffic that we have there and emergency equipment that we have in the area. So we closed it to the general public.”

Smoke from the fire is occasionally blowing over the town.

Dr. Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer with the Department of Health and Social Services, said a precautionary public health advisory is still in effect.

It was issued on March 11 because the smoke could cause poor air quality.

“When I talk about the health advisory with smoke blowing into the community, basically this is a recommendation for the whole population,” she said. “It’s that when there is smoke blowing into the community to try to avoid exposure as much as possible to the smoke. That’s not a time to be doing strenuous outdoor activities.”

That particularly goes for people with heart disease, lung disease or asthma, young children, the elderly, and pregnant women.

“This advisory will stay in effect until we assess that there is no further risk to the general population and especially to those at high risk,” said Kandola.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has set up two portable air quality monitoring stations to collect information that is provided to the Department of Health and Social Services.

A local state of emergency first declared on March 10 by the Town of Hay River because of the fire was renewed on March 17 for another seven days.