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NNSL Photo/graphic

Nearly two weeks after local authorities were called in to fight a fire at the town's landfill, heavy equipment was still dealing with the smoking remnants of the blaze. - Jason Unrau/NNSL photo

Landfill fire extinguished

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Jan 06/06) - Inuvik fire officials say the landfill fire that broke out on Dec. 13 is finally extinguished and no longer smoking.

Yesterday, a public health advisory issued Dec. 21 was rescinded. Bob Mellett, environmental health officer for regional health and social services, met with town and fire officials Dec. 21 and asked them to continue monitoring the site of the fire until spring melt.

Mellett posted the advisory at the Inuvik hospital when smoke from the fire blanketed the town. He warned residents to take steps to avoid breathing the smoke.

"If there's smoke in the air, stay indoors," said Mellett at the time. "We're putting the word out that if you have any respiratory problems then go see your doctor."

It's unknown what kind of chemical agents are in the smoke.

"You tell me what's in the dump and I can tell you what's in the smoke," said Mellett.

The Environment and Natural Resources Department has continually monitored local air quality for the past two years from a site near the elementary school, but due to the holidays, nobody could be contacted to comment on its current state.

Four pieces of heavy equipment were on site digging through the smoking refuse last week. The burning rubbish was dug up and soaked.

Garbage collection continued and individuals were still able to bring garbage to the landfill, but were directed to dump their loads away from the fire.

Fire Capt. Julie Miller says due to the "deep seated" nature of the fire, "It could have been burning underground for several months before it came to the surface."

"But there's no way to find out exactly when it started," she added, noting the fire was estimated to have burned 25 feet down.

Sitting in the cabin at the town dump entrance, Albert Bernhardt, proprietor of AB Salvage, which has held the landfill contract for the past five years, believes the fire is the result of a landfill blaze eight years ago that was never fully extinguished.

"Until they rip the whole thing out, it will keep on going," he predicted.

Apart from environmental and health impacts, the Town of Inuvik likely racked up quite a bill for heavy equipment rentals from three local contractors. Tom Lie, senior administrative officer for the town, says these costs are, "Being tracked, but there are no estimates at this time."

Lie added that the town would be asking the GNWT's Department of Municipal and Community Affairs if it qualified for financial assistance.

The going rate for a dump truck is approximately $120 per hour. More sophisticated machinery such as loaders command higher rates.

The fire at the dump eight years ago is estimated to have cost the town more than $90,000 to extinguish.

As smoke continued to billow at the dump, Bernhardt is preparing for his exit from the trash business with mixed emotions. His contract with the town was not renewed and expires at the end of the year.

"If (the town) wants a better dump, they'll have to re-use, recycle and reclaim," he said. "But they figured it would cost too much."

For the past five years he has been sifting through rubbish to remove not only cans and bottles, but batteries, tires and appliances discarded over the landfill's nearly 30-year lifespan.

"It's into the millions the items I've pulled out," he said of his efforts.

So would this fire be a lesson for the town?

"The town doesn't take any lessons," Bernhardt said with frustration. "Out of sight, out of mind, you know. But I bet they can smell it now."