THURSDAY, MARCH 29: A massive fire at Pembroke dump may have been started deliberately, Fire chief Vincent Hollinsid said tonight.
Mr Hollinsid said: “We’re not convinced at this time it started through natural causes. We’re not rulling out that this could have been a suspicious fire.”
Mr Hollinsid — who took personal command of the massive operation, which involved up to 70 firefighters, added that one of the two blazes was being brought under control.
Private water truckers backed up firefighters by ferrying water to the scene and Government trucks also pitched in to help the fire crews.
Public Works Minister Michael Weeks said that his ministry had been mobilised to help deal with the crisis.
Mr Weeks said that — while no decision had been taken to evacuate homes affected by smoke at 10.30pm — CedarBridge Academy had been put on standby and cots were being sourced in case a large-scale evacuation had to take place.
Mr Weeks also appealed for people to stay indoors and avoid sightseeing, which hampered the passage of emergency vehicles to the scene.
Mr Weeks added: “The Premier has been informed and all the local MPs are working with me and the emergency services to deal with this as fast as possible.
“People should stay in their homes and be alert, because burning debris could be blown off the site of the fire and start fires elsewhere.”
The fire — which has two main centres — is thought to have started at the west end of the dump. The areas worst affected by smoke were Perimeter Lane and the Friswell’s Hill area.
Mr Hollinsid said that when the fire could be brought under control was “the million dollar question.” He added: “It depends on a number of factors; how deep-seated the fire is and how and how we can get in to deal with it.”
And Mr Hollinsid said that firefighters may have to use breathing equipment to deal with the blaze.
It appears that two large fires had broken out at the site shortly after 8pm. One area is around 50’ by 60’, while the other is around 6-‘ by 200’.
Mr Hollinsid said that while the blaze was at its strongest, much of the smoke would be high in the sky: “We’re letting it burn until we extinguish the fire at the back of the dump. We don’t want to get caught between the two and risk the wind changing.”
Fire appliances from all over the island – a total of 17 vehicles – were pulled in and off-duty firefighters were called in to help.
Police sealed off the dump, located off Palmetto Road, after the blaze took hold. Water truckers have been called in to help with the blaze.
The road was thronged with sightseers after flames leapt into the sky and plumes of smoke spread to North Shore Road.
One woman, who lives on the other side of Palmetto Road, said: “It’s a huge blaze – there have been fires here before, but this is something else.
“There’s a huge number of people on Palmetto Road just watching it burn.”
The woman said she thought the blaze was made worse by the recent dry spell and high winds, which fanned the flames.
Smoke blanketed the area, covering parts of Pembroke and plumes of smoke drifted into the city.
A Works and Engineering employee at the site said he saw smoke and flames as he left work around 8pm.
He said: “I looked around and up and I could see fire – I think this is one of the biggest fires, although it’s happened before.”
The wind last night appeared to be blowing most of the smoke and flames towards North Shore Road and no homes appeared to be in imminent danger.
However, the adjacent neighbourhoods are being affected. Joie Trott, a Friswell’s Hill resident, said her “yard is full of dark smoke and ashes and inside the house is smoky as well”.
The last time the dump caught fire was in May 2009, with the last major fire two years before that. That time the cause was linked to agricultural waste being left to pile too high. That fire lasted for nearly two weeks before being extinguished. Government was left to pick up the tab to have nearby homes’ roofs cleaned.
One Works & Engineering employee, who was inside the dump last night, told the Bermuda Sun: “These lot didn’t learn anything from the last time.”
Highly-inflammable methane gas is a known by-product of waste dumps and fires caused by the generation of heat from decomposing waste are common.
It is understood that some people living nearby did not wait for instructions from the authorities and opted to leave the area to avoid the thick smoke generated by the blaze. e thick smoke generated by the blaze.