Intermittent water supply is making it difficult to fully extinguish a fire at the New England Road landfill

Intermittent water supply is making it difficult to fully extinguish a fire at the New England Road landfill

By Frances Ringwood             

24 November 2016

Pietermaritzburg – A fire at the New England Road landfill on the weekend which may have been caused by vagrants breaking onto the site is still not yet completely out due to numerous factors including water shortages and subsequent flooding. The municipality is asking for assistance to completely quench the remainder of the fire.

After making contact with the Msunduzi local municipality, it was discovered that Saturday’s landfill fire has been “brought under control as at Monday, in that it was confined to a specific area”.

Spokeperson for Msunduzi, Thobeka Mathumbatha, said that putting out the fire completely is being stymied by many factors.

These include an inconsistent supply of water. “We had a loan water tanker from our Water Section for the first two days. We had requested tankers from Plant Pool and were supplied with three , only to have them withdrawn by Plant Pool,” Mathumbatha said.

“I then spoke to Mthandeni and the next day (Wednesday) we were sent four water tankers, unfortunately at this time, our local fire department’s fire engines were experiencing problems. All four tankers were taken away despite my request to leave at least one behind (I do acknowledge that community needs are equally important),” she added.

The waste management department then set out to use its own water tanker, which is not as efficient as the other tankers. “We are now making some progress,” Mathumbatha said.

Compactor in the workshop

Adding to these pressures, New England now has only one working landfill compactor which was operating around the clock, leading to a breakdown. It is now at a workshop being repaired.

“Incoming waste volumes are still very high and it’s fast filling the landfill’s work-face, making it difficult to dedicate the compactor to the fire  all the time,” Mathumbatha added.

Further exacerbating the problem is the recent deluge, which is causing the fire engine and water tankers to get bogged down.

Request for assistance

The municipality has made an urgent plea for support services and more resources to effectively manage the situation, the following are required:

  1. Water tankers;
  2. additional fire engines ;
  3. an additional plant excavator, and
  4. assistance with municipal security – to help manage the waste-pickers.

This story is an update on the news item below:


Is New England landfill a ‘real disaster’?

White smoke billowed over the southern suburbs of the Pietermaritzburg CBD on Sunday morning after the local New England Road landfill caught fire in the second incident to hit news headlines this year.

While residents in the area complained that “foul odours” resulted from the fire, they also indicated that landfill blazes at the site were common.

Nearby schools

St. Charles College and St. John’s Diocesan School for Girls are situated across the freeway from the landfill. In close proximity to the freeway are the boarding establishments of both schools which house several hundred pupils and supporting boarding staff.

St. Charles school principal, Allen van Blerk, said that the number of incidences of the landfill catching fire have recently decreased. “I believe it has been more carefully managed in recent years,” he said.

He explained that when the landfill does catch fire, “The boys are kept indoors and we close the windows. If we need to leave the premises we ask parents to collect their children and we bus our boarders off campus.”

Simon Moore, St. John’s principal said it was “quite unusual that there have been two fires this year,” as he had not experienced any in his five years at the school.

“If a fire at the landfill does catch fire, the school will immediately contact the landfill manager to establish the extent of the fire, the toxicity levels and the wind direction,” Moore said. “Once the school has that information, we will decide on an appropriate course of action to minimise effect on the staff and girls at St John’s D.S.G.”.

He explained that the school was not affected by Sunday’s fire as “it was reported as being non-hazardous and therefore the school was deemed not at risk.”

Both schools are generally affected by a landfill fire when there is a temperature inversion over the city, as the city lies in a valley. This inversion causes the wind to blow downward over most parts of the city.

Media reports said that according to a source at the landfill site, the fire started at about 7 pm on Saturday night and continued into Sunday afternoon.

Vagrants on site

A source who has previously worked on the site told ReSource that although the landfill is “well designed” with “well informed management”, security was a problem. They said “a lack of government support and unskilled workers on site,” meant that security had failed, allowing vagrants to gain access to the landfill. “Once on site these scavengers start small fires, usually in winter to keep warm” they said.

The source explained that the smallest of sparks could ignite large fires and added that management and operations difficulties could, at times, be characterised as a “real disaster”.



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