KZN firefighters’ battle landfill blaze amid warnings of ‘highly toxic’ smoke

11 August 2017 - 16:11 By Suthentira Govender

Environmental justice group groundWork has warned that the fire at the Pietermaritzburg landfill site could be “highly toxic”.

Residents of KwaZulu-Natal’s capital city woke up to clouds of billowing smoke and an acrid stench that engulfed Pietermaritzburg on Friday morning. A number of schools in the city were forced to shut their doors‚ after the stench‚ believed to be emanating from the city’s dump‚ became overbearing.

It is understood that the city’s dump had caught fire on Thursday night - exactly a year after a fire swept through the landfill.

Fire fighters fight to put out a blaze at the Msunduzi landfill in Pietermaritzburg since yesterday.
Fire fighters fight to put out a blaze at the Msunduzi landfill in Pietermaritzburg since yesterday.
Image: Jackie Clausen

Musa Chamane‚ groundWork’s waste campaigner‚ said: “The fire is very toxic and can have health impacts‚ especially on those who already suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma. They can experience symptoms that aggravate their illnesses. The cocktail of burning materials ‚including plastic‚ is [likely] to be highly toxic and … [affect] those living and working next to the site‚ including areas such as Scottsville‚ Pelham‚ Pietermaritzburg central and as far as Edendale.”

The Msunduzi Municipality said in a statement that the cause of the fire was unknown.

"Dense smoke and wind conditions have made it difficult to completely extinguish the fire yesterday‚ but it is expected that the process of completely dousing off the fire on site would take three days. The cause of the fire is unknown. It is currently impossible to give estimates of the damage caused‚ but we can confirm that currently no lives have been lost."

Firemen fighting the Msunduzi Landfill fire in Pietermaritzburg on Friday.
Firemen fighting the Msunduzi Landfill fire in Pietermaritzburg on Friday.
Image: JACKIE CLAUSEN

A firefighter‚ who did not want to be identified‚ said a small team was battling to contain the fire with limited resources.

“We only have one or two trucks operational and they’re not in a good condition. We are chronically short-staffed.”

The firefighter said noxious fumes were being emitted from the dump and “firefighters are fighting the fire with no proper safety equipment - that’s a big concern”.

He confirmed that the cause of the fire was currently not known. “It could be spontaneous ignition or it could have started by scavengers picking through the dump

Firefighters rest as they wait for more water at the Msunduzi landfill in Pietermaritzburg.
Firefighters rest as they wait for more water at the Msunduzi landfill in Pietermaritzburg.
Image: Jackie Clausen
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