99 days later, Iqaluit prepares to put out dump fire

‘My God, we have to start,’ says Iqaluit’s fire chief, Luc Grandmaison, on the eve of the operation to put out the fire that’s been burning for over three months.

If winds are favourable, firefighters will begin to put out the fire Wednesday

About 50 people gathered Monday night to hear about the City of Iqaluit's plan to tackle the dump fire that's been burning for 99 days. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

If the winds are favourable, a fire crew will begin tackling Iqaluit’s long-burning dump fire on Wednesday.

Deputy Fire Chief George Seigler says two city firefighters and six from Hellfire Suppression Services in Alberta will work 12 to 14 hours a day until the fire is out. About 40,000 kilograms of equipment has already been flown into the city.

At a public meeting last night, city officials found some support for the plan, and a lot of frustration.

Iqaluit deputy mayor, Mary Wilman, says the fire has been a learning experience: 'I hope the realization has come home to each and every one of us that my garbage, your garbage, everybody's garbage has to be done properly.' (Shaun Malley/CBC)
"Almost ninety-nine days since this fire started?” says long-time resident Anne Crawford. ”And we've been accumulating toxins for all that time? Plus impacts on kids and on the elderly and on pregnant women. I'm a little bit impatient to get this done with."

Rebekah Williams was more optimistic.

"All of us have to be together to make it better for all of us."

Deputy mayor Mary Wilman says the city has been working hard for three months, making sure the plan is safe, environmentally sound and affordable.

"I hope the realization has come home to each and every one of us that my garbage, your garbage, everybody's garbage has to be done properly."

Wilman says the dump fire has prompted the city to speed up plans to separate cardboard and paper from the garbage.

‘We’re fighting the unknown’

Christa Kunuk was one of several people who have been pushing for the fire to be put out. 'There's lots of children. There's lots of elders. There's a lot of people when you say are at risk.' (Shaun Malley/CBC)
Fire Chief Luc Grandmaison is anxious to get things moving.

"My God. We have to start. We're hoping if all is right we're starting Wednesday morning and we will go on 12 or 14 hours a day."

Grandmaison says the dump fire is a “biohazard" with unknown substances and human waste from the sewage lagoon.

“We’re fighting the unknown,” he says.

He says a "safety zone" will be created to protect people’s health, and says there will be security around the dump 24 hours a day.

Access to the causeway will be limited whenever it’s deemed a risk, but will not be closed entirely.

Grandmaison says people will have to come out and see whether the causeway is open, as it could change hourly.

Darker smoke, and more of it

Iqaluit Fire Chief Luc Grandmaison and Ryan Stambaugh of Hellfire Suppression Services answered questions about the plan to put out the fire. (Elyse Skura/CBC)
Grandmaison says Iqalummiut can expect to see more, darker smoke from the dump during the operation, but he says residents needn’t be concerned.

The Nunavut government is monitoring air quality, but not near the breakwater where Christa Kunuk lives.

"We have overcrowding. There's lots of children. There's lots of elders. There's a lot of people when you say are at risk. A lot of them are in my area. So I encourage the monitoring to be done there as well,” Kunuk says.

Government officials say they will talk about whether or not it's possible to move the monitoring equipment. Air quality results from these stations is always seven to 10 days due to the time it takes to analyze the data.

Maureen Baikie, Nunavut’s chief medical officer of health, says about five people have been going to the hospital each week saying they have symptoms related to the smoke, but no one has been admitted.

Ryan Stambaugh of Hellfire Suppression Services, based in Rocky Mountain House, Alta., says air quality issues should drastically decrease as pile gets smaller.

No word from the military

The Nunavut government, on behalf of the city, sent a letter to the Department of National Defence last week asking for help to tackle the fire.

Ed Zebedee, Nunavut’s director of protection services, says no response has been received.

Waste water to be treated next year

Matthew Hamp from Iqaluit’s engineering department says water from the fire operation will be held over winter and treated by a company next year.


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