GUYSBOROUGH – Guysborough area residents awoke to the foul smell of burning waste and, soon after, a haze in the air on the morning of Aug. 26.
At 8:43 a.m., the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) posted a notice on Facebook, alerting the public about to the fire and noting that, “There is a significant amount of smoke so residents are advised to keep their windows closed for most of the day today.”
At 2:14 p.m. the MODG, once again through Facebook, informed that “the fire is subsiding, and it is expected that the Waste Management Facility will be reopened tomorrow. Everyone is safe and some follow up work will be carried out.”
By that time, the wind had increased from almost dead calm to nine kilometres per hour southeast, as measured at the weather station in Guysborough, blowing most of the smoky haze away from land.
On the following day (Aug. 27), MODG Warden Vernon Pitts spoke to The Journal about the fire at the Waste Management Facility and next steps.
The fire was reported, Pitts said, at approximately 6 a.m. and members of surrounding volunteer fire departments – Milford Haven Guysborough/Boylston, Tracadie and District, and Seven Communities (on Hwy 344, Hadleyville) – responded shortly thereafter.
On the scene were two pumper trucks and six tankers directly involved in fire suppression, in addition to the pumper truck that is always kept on site at the Waste Management Facility as a safety measure.
“Fire suppression activities lasted for approximately seven hours,” said Pitts, adding that it was solid waste in the active cell that was burning.
“It was very, very hot; muggy, low atmospheric ceiling,” said Pitts of the day, which added to the difficulty of fighting the fire, the cause of which is unknown, but will be investigated in the coming days.
“They’ll dig down through it [the area of the fire] and find the point of origin hopefully … and they did have to dig down into the site. We had to get the dozer and the excavator. The only way you can attack is, you have to get right down, right where it is happening. And lots of water, but our water is all contained, anything that’s sprayed into that [fire] goes into our settling pond and is hauled away as leachate,” Pitts explained.
Pitts said the Waste Management Facility’s fire suppression equipment is like insurance that you hope you never have to use. If a fire breaks out, “We are prepared to address it. We do the best we can. And following that, we’ll be setting down next week and going through the basic operation and see what we did right, if we did anything wrong; it’s a work in progress – we’ll correct as we go forward.”
After the fire was extinguished, the site was sealed and kept under surveillance through the night of Aug. 26 to ensure there were no flare ups. Solid waste will now be deposited at a location further down the active cell.
“In the eventuality that it doesn’t flare up again, I would expect, in the next week or so, we’ll be dumping in the same spot because it’s too valuable a space not to use,” said Pitts.
When asked why the warning about the smoke from the fire was put out via Facebook rather than the Voyent Alert! system the MODG has recently adopted, which sends out emergency warnings directly to registered cell phone users within the affected area, Pitts said, “We’re going to have to discuss that one; it was a low-risk event and there was no immediate danger… We’re certainly going to look at using that in the future.”
Despite the smoke and smell that was emitted from the fire, Pitts said there was never a plan to evacuate nearby residents.
“The fire was contained. It was almost a non-existent ability that it could spread. It was contained within the site…There was no immediate danger to surrounding areas.”
On the day of the fire, Guysborough County as well as the rest of Nova Scotia was under a heat warning for the second day in a row, making the work of those attending the fire, volunteer firefighters and MODG staff, that much more difficult.
Pitts said of their effort, “They were phenomenal. The temperatures were extreme …I was on site all yesterday morning and it was just unbelievable. It was like working in an oven. We’ve got to realize that our fire members are volunteers, and you talk about going the extra mile.
“We ensured that they were adequately hydrated, they took breaks and we fed them; that’s only little things that we could do to help out. Big kudos to them … As warden and as a municipal unit, we should be so appreciative of our volunteer fire departments,” said Pitts.