Tonga Landfill Fire Contained; Toxic Smoke Still Being Emitted From Hot Spots

Cause of massive Christmas Day blaze yet to be determined

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Dec. 27, 2016) – Tonga Fire Services has scaled down its operation at Tapuhia Waste Management Facility at Vaini, after a massive fire was contained yesterday. However, government issued warnings today for the public to stay clear of the smoke as toxic fumes are still being emitted from hot spots that remain.

Tonga's Environment Department stated that the Christmas landfill fire had been significantly contained yesterday, 26 December, at Tapuhia, by the “tireless efforts” of the emergency services and others.

“The likely impact to the environment and human health through the emission of toxic fumes has also been reduced greatly, however, nearby commuters are hereby advised to proceed with caution while outdoors, until the fumes are no longer visible,” they stated today.


Deputy Fire Commissioner Sinamoni Kauvaka told Matangi Tonga this morning he had relieved most of his 20 firefighters, who had been working on the site since the big fire broke out on Christmas Day, so they could go home and rest

He said there are still some hot spots smouldering with fumes, which should take a few days to completely put out.

“We have a fire truck and a few firefighters based at the site to monitor the toxic fumes since it is windy today. But the flames have been put out and we have managed to control the fumes, but it is smouldering under some layers of the waste, and still needs hosing down with the help of an excavator, which has been tasked to dismantle the rubbish so water can reach the base,” he said.

“Firefighters remain on standby and alert in case the fire erupts again and we will continue visiting the site over the next few days.”

He said the cause had not determined at this stage but his team of investigators will look into it.

The Fire Services with the support of National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) including a team from defence and police as well as the Waste Management Authority (WAL) have teamed up since Christmas Day to respond to the fire.

Spontaneous combustion

Malakai Sika, CEO of WAL, the government enterprise that runs the landfill, was overseas and said he was returning to Tonga today to assess the fire situation.

“It's a spontaneous combustion, not on top but came up on the uncompacted sides, from underneath the landfill. It first came out last week and we were able to put out the fire with the assistance of the fire brigade. On Xmas day the fire came up again and now under control. We are now monitoring it closely to put out any fire that may come up,” he stated.

Kalisitiane Tukuafu from Waste Authority Ltd. said they would continue to monitor the situation to ensure that such incident would not re-occur.

Pollution control

Mafile'o Masi, head of the Waste Management and Pollution Control Division at the Department of Environment said today that the landfill cell that was on fire was cell no. 1 and not cell no. 2 as was reported earlier.

” All efforts are being made, including assistance from the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO), His Majesty’s Armed Forces, Tonga Police, Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and private sector to control the outbreak of the landfill fire and assessments are being made to the likely impact to the environment and human health such as air pollution and possible leachate to the water resource as a result of the fire,” she stated.

“Tapuhia Waste Management Facility was funded by the Government of Tonga and Government of Australia through AusAID's Tonga Solid Waste Management Project of about more than AUD$11 million [US$7.9 million] and the facility was officially opened in 2006.”

The landfill was more recently expanded in January 2015 with the completion of a second phase of development costing $2.7 million pa’anga [US$1.2 million].

Tapuhia Solid Waste Management Facility was designed to protect the groundwater resource. The facility has a public area for recycling and dropping off general waste, cells to treat general waste, and septage beds for waste from the septic trucks.

Matangi Tonga Magazine
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