Iqaluit Dump Fire Update: Q&A with the Fire Fighters


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Header photo by Mark Aspland.

ICYMI, the Iqaluit dump fire is in the process of being extinguished! You heard that right: since we published our Dumpcano Timeline and the accompanying gloomy video, the City has taken the steps necessary to put out inferno.

Not long after publishing our first piece on the dump fire, I became part of a citizen action group in Iqaluit called Iqalummiut for Action. The group is made up of a number of concerned residents who wanted to see action to put out the Iqaluit dump fire and more importantly, are urging the City to move forward with sustainable waste management. Members of the group regularly attend council meetings, either to speak or to listen, and have provided an open forum online where people can share their questions, photos, and suggestions.

Not long after firefighting at the dump began, Iqalummiut for Action received an email from Mike Noblett, a forensic specialist who works with Global Forensics, one of the companies contracted to put out the dump fire. Noblett requested a meeting with our citizen action group to update us on the fire and to answer any questions we had. Needless to say, this request was met with respect and an enthusiastic, "Yes, please!" So, on Sunday, September 7th, a few members of Iqalummiut for Action met with Noblett and George Seigler (from the Iqaluit Fire Department) to talk about firefighting, health scares, and long-term solutions. Here is a summary of our questions and answers.

1. Who exactly is working on extinguishing the Iqaluit dump fire?

It turns out that there is quite the collaborative effort going on to fight this fire. Involved in the operations are:

  1. Iqaluit Fire Department: Three to four firefighters are on the scene at any given time.
  2. Global Forensics: Site managers and forensic expertise.
  3. Hellfire Suppression Services: Industrial firefighting services; six firefighter crew.
  4. Rapid Fire: Site engineers.
  5. Tower Arctic Ltd.: Heavy duty equipment operations (see photo below).
Photo by Eric Jacobsen.

Photo by Eric Jacobsen.

In addition, there are medics on site full-time. Seigler told us that each morning begins with a 06:30 safety meeting and ends with a debrief.

2. What impact, if any, does the extinguishing process have on our health?

According to Noblett and Seigler, probably none at all. The water they are spraying is suppressing the particulates from the dump. When firefighting is complete for the day, the dump is capped so there is no open, free burning. This means that no toxins are being released into the air specifically due to firefighting.

3. And what about the environment?

The fire team is flowing about 1200 gallons of water per minute, and that's a lot of water to use and to contain. The water is sourced from a creek and placed in a berm for spraying. To prevent waste, the run-off, which is called the leachate, is funnelled to a temporary drafting pond, where it is mixed with freshwater. The leachate-freshwater mix is then pumped back into the hoses and used to fight the fire. Once the firefighting is complete, any leftover leachate will be treated and then drained. All of these water-related processes are monitored by City engineers and staff from GN Environment, Environment Canada, and AANDC.

4. How long will this take?

At the time of our chat, Seigler and Noblett estimated that the fire was about 50% extinguished; later in the week, they raised that value to 60%. Though they have made a great deal of progress, Noblett explained that as they are not just getting to the hottest part of the fire (burning at over 1100 degrees Fahrenheit),  firefighting from this point on will be more difficult and time-consuming. Thus, they are sticking to their original 30-day estimation of a September 30th end date.

5. Are they doing anything to make sure this doesn't happen again?

The contracted companies like Hellfire Suppression and Global Forensics are working with our City staff on a number of preventative measures. First, there is a system of mentoring between the industrial firefighters and our municipal firefighters. Secondly, Noblett is studying the fire and working with the City on an Action Plan that will be added to the existing Solid Waste Management Plan. The Action Plan will include recommendations for better dump management (example: ensuring proper layering and sorting procedures when piling trash) and better waste separation.

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On behalf of everyone who is part of Iqalummiut for Action, I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to Mike and George. They went out of their way to talk with us when they were under no obligation to do so, and they gave us frank, honest answers to our questions. We are also grateful for the hard work they are putting in to extinguish the fire and we look forward to hosting the entire crew at a celebratory feast once the Iqaluit dump fire has been put to rest.