While cities like Vancouver are examining high-efficiency incineration as a way to avoid landfilling, the citizens of Iqaluit, who can’t bury garbage because of permafrost, are finding out that considerably lower-tech and unintended incineration can be a problem. A dump fire that started on Sept. 24 has continued to smoulder for over three weeks. The fire is composed mainly of construction debris, including metal and plastics, and toxic smoke forced the temporary closure of a nearby school after both students and teachers complained of headaches.
After initially trying just to contain the fire at the dump, the local fire department managed to extinguish a large portion of it; the fire is now relegated to a small, isolated area and “burning in a very controlled manner,” fire Chief Walter Oliver told Maclean’s, although there is “still a fair amount of fuel left” and weather conditions will determine how much longer it will burn. There are often small fires that break out at the dump, but high winds on the night of Sept. 24 allowed this one to “get too deep-seated,” says Oliver. The department had limited access to heavy equipment, as the few machines in the town with a population of over 6,000 were already delegated to infrastructure projects.
The Iqaluit dump did practise controlled burning until 2002; the current public works superintendent, Frank Ford, told the Nunatsiaq News that the risk of uncontrolled fires like the current one will remain unless the practice is resumed.