‘We didn’t start the fire’

Workers at the landfill have spent all week protesting as salary negotiations have stalled between the Industrial, General and Sanitation Workers Union (IGSW) and the Solid Waste Management Company Limited (SWMCOL).

Workers told Newsday they were in the lunch room after their protest when they noticed the fire at about 1.30 pm. They said fires at the dump were a usual occurrence but the cause of yesterday’s blaze — according to the workers — was a bush fire on the eastern side of the landfill.

“Bush fires are a usual thing in the dry season and when the fires mix with gases at the dump it can spread. So workers really had nothing to do with this,” said a worker.

SWMCOL in a bulletin said the landfill was temporarily closed and the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation’s Disaster Management Unit, the Fire Services, WASA and the National Operations Centre (NOC) were alerted to help extinguish the fire.

While this was taking place police officers converged along the Beetham Highway to direct the free flow of traffic as thick smoke from the fire began affecting visibility for motorists. In the air the NOC helicopter transporting Executive Director Garvin Heerah, hovered above viewing the fire from the air, sending feedback to the relevant agencies as a coordinated approach continued in an effort to extinguish the blaze. Officers of the Environmental management Authority (EMA) and the ODPM carried out air quality tests. Following his aerial tour of the fire, Heerah Newsday, “we have conducted an aerial surveillance of the fire at the Beetham Landfill from the air, the fire appears to be subterranean (lit from underground), the smoke is very heavy and the smog is being blown west, southwest, if the intensity of this fire continues, there is a probability that it can affect the city of Port of Spain. The ODPM and the EMA have been alerted and they are putting contingencies in place so as to determine the air quality and that there is no air pollution. The Engineering Corps of the Defence Force is on standby in the event that we need them to do some bulldozing work, the NOC is now on full alert”.

Mervyn Richardson of the NOC said they saw images of the fire in the Beetham Landfill site on their cameras, and they immediately swung into action.

“From what I know there are fire officers, soldiers and others on the ground, smoke can be seen on cameras”. When asked by Newsday if he thought it was an act of sabotage, Richardson said. ““I cannot rule out sabotage, but cannot say that it is sabotage”.

Several SWMCOL employees who had earlier on engaged in protest action insisted that the fire was not set by them but added that they felt that they were being set up for something they did not do.

The EMA was alerted to the fire at 2 pm and a preliminary reports indicates the fire was seen over the south-western portion of the landfill.

Approximately 25 percent of the landfill is engulfed.

The EMA has mobilised monitoring teams to monitor air quality in Laventille, Sea Lots and the Beetham. Surveillance of the area suggests that the smoke, coupled with the fluctuating wind direction is impacting Sea Lots and Beetham areas up to press time. EMA chairman Dr Allan Bachan, in a release, advised the public that, “We will continue to coordinate with the relevant state agencies and monitor the situation. We will continue to conduct regular air quality tests and would advise the public on further updates as necessary”.

In January 2014, a similar fire occurred at the Beetham Landfill site prompting the closure of the site. During that fire, thick clouds of smoke covered Port-of-Spain as maliciously set fires at the landfill, continued to burn.

Tests revealed that in some parts of the nation’s capital, the toxicity level of the air was 13 times that which was considered safe.

The thick smog led to the early closure of at least 16 schools while several businesses also closed early as smoke was too much for proprietors, employees and shoppers to bear.


"‘We didn’t start the fire’"

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