Iqaluit’s fire chief, Luc Grandmaison, is proposing a bold plan to extinguish a seven-week-old fire in the city's garbage dump, suggesting a method that would cool the burning garbage with the help of millions of litres of seawater and cost at least $4.5 million.

Grandmaison presented the plan to city council Tuesday night.

The fire, which flared up on May 20, has caused schools to close and prompted regular health advisories for people sensitive to smoke. The dump fire's volume is now estimated at 50,000 cubic metres, five times bigger than the dump fire in Iqaluit in 2010.

Grandmaison, along with a working group including fire officials, emergency officials and a city engineer, has recommended using an "overall quenching approach" to put it out. That would mean scooping out the burning garbage, which is piled 15 metres deep, cooling it, dunking it in water and stacking it up again in a new pile.

"Once we start, if we can maintain this for 50 days, we can get this fire out," Grandmaison said.

Luc Grandmaison

Iqaluit fire chief Luc Grandmaison: 'Anything we do below this plan, can sacrifice a person's health.' (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

His 10-chapter business plan outlines an operation that would use more than 50 million litres of water pumped from Frobisher Bay at an estimated cost of $91,000 a day. The total cost of the operation would be at least $4.5 million.

"That's not factoring all that can happen," Grandmaison said.  

If the fire's not out in 50 days, the cost could increase by another $1 million every 11 days, Iqlauit's chief municipal administrator, John Hussey, said.

Garbage to be hosed down and dumped into 'quenching pond'

A pond would be erected on the Frobisher Bay side of the dump to hold a day and a half's worth of seawater, pumped 15 metres uphill from the bay. Seven spray nozzles would be erected to provide a continuous jet of water onto the burning pile as front-end loaders dug into it to grab loads of garbage and dunk them in a separate "quenching pond" — four to six metres wide and 20 metres long — outside the dump's main gate.

A decontamination area would be installed near the makeshift golf course (a series of old carpets laid out on the ground to form "greens" on a barren stretch of tundra). Here, workers could rinse off heavy equipment at night to prevent the salt water from rusting it.

The operation would last 12 to 14 hours a day while at night, the nozzles would keep spraying to keep the dust, soot and ash from polluting the area.

A command post would be established across the street from the dump.

Grandmaison says people in Iqaluit could expect to see billowing smoke pouring from the dump, which sits on a spit of land that juts into the bay in full view of the city. 

He also said a lawyer has been retained to provide legal advice during the operation.

Waste diversion crucial

Grandmaison reminded council that while Health Canada and Environment Canada have reported no major air quality issues stemming from the burning dump, they have yet to release the data on dioxins and furans — toxic chemicals released when hazardous waste is burned.

"Anything we do below this plan can sacrifice a person's health."

The working group is now waiting on the Nunavut government for approval to go ahead.     

A crucial element to the entire plan is that the dump would have to be closed.

Iqaluit's deputy fire chief, George Siegler, has already said the makeshift dump the city's currently using near the old metal dump is another dump fire in the making, or "just a recipe to have this happen again."   

Chapter 10 of the business plan, Grandmaison says, deals with the issue of diverting waste out of the pile. That would include sorting out wood, cardboard and old tires — something that's not happening right now.

"We need to find a way to reduce our fire load at the landfill," Grandmaison says. "We cannot have another fire like this."