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Years And Millions Later, Anguilla Fire Put Out

Feb. 6, 2009 — The fire that had been burning underground at St. Croix's Anguilla landfill for many years has been extinguished, the Waste Management Authority announced Friday. A federal mandate to close the landfill and a worsening of the fire made putting the fire out a priority.
The landfill is to close at the end of 2009. Although no waste can be accepted after that date, federal law and a mandate from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency require capping of the landfill, monitoring for environmental contamination, testing for levels of methane and other gases produced by buried garbage, and installation of a gas-collection system. The fire had to be extinguished before these can be done.
The proximity of the landfill to the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport caused the V.I. Port Authority to lose eligibility for Federal Aviation Administration discretionary grant funds, which ordered the closure. This has cost the airport between $7.5 million and $10 million dollars annually in federal grants for capital projects at the St. Croix and St. Thomas airports. Once the landfill is closed, those funds should flow again, allowing more capital improvements at both airports.
The fire had been worsening too, adding to the pressure to act.
"A series of smaller fires connected over the south and south west slopes of the Anguilla Landfill," WMA Executive Director May Adams Cornwall said at a Senate hearing last April, "creating a situation of imminent failure and danger to the operating contractor and Waste Management staff, the Henry E. Rohlsen airport operations and the surrounding community. … as these fires burn, the surface can cave in and people and equipment can fall into the fire." (See: "Anguilla Landfill Will Close After Fire Extinguished.")
Fires such as this are fed by buried tires and other materials within the landfill and are notoriously difficult to extinguish. Some fires in various U.S. locales have smoldered for decades.
This sort of fire suppression is highly specialized and without the proper expertise, potentially dangerous. Williams Fire and Hazard Control, Inc., a Texas-based industrial firefighting company, was contracted, and the job was originally budgeted at $3.9 million. The V.I. Public Finance Authority authorized the release of capital bond funds for the job.
In its announcement of the job's completion, WMA praised Williams, saying there were no safety or environmental incidents during the job. Final thermal imaging studies of the affected landfill project areas show all temperatures in the normal range and no hot spots were detected, according to the release.
The contracted landfill operator, A-9 Trucking Enterprises, remains on site, backfilling material dug up while putting the fire out and compacting the covering layer on the landfill's slopes, preparing for the landfill's closure.
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