July 9, 2002 – As firefighters continued to battle flames in the scrap metal section of the Anguilla landfill on Tuesday, Public Works Department officials began their investigation into the cause of the fire.
Public Works officials said they hoped the blaze would be extinguished by Wednesday.
However, there was no word about when the landfill might reopen or when the pickup of trash from bins, which was interrupted Monday with the closing of the dump, might resume on St. Croix.
The government has initiated a plan that allows the dump site contractor in charge of managing the smoldering 40-foot-high mounds of debris to aerate the tires and other materials burning therein.
Dwayne Fergus of Fergutrax, the on-site contractor, said, "Our approach is to monitor the flames, open up the piles, wet them down and let them cool off and aerate." He disagreed with suggestions to cover the piles with soil, saying that would hide the flames but would not extinguish the burning tires.
"Thanks to Harry Thompson, who said there should be fire lanes through here," he said in the midst of the debris piles at one point, referring to the late former Public Works commissioner.
Fergus said Anguilla is the only public dump he knows of that does not have 24-hour security. He said he has seen landfill employees threatened on the site with guns or machetes by hostile residents who do not want to comply with regulations.
Also, "Propane tanks should not be in here," he said as he pointed to the tanks amid the mangled, rusty metal. And, he added, "They need to drain the fluids from the cars and remove tires from the site."
There has been speculation about several possible causes of the fire — the dumping of vehicles with undrained fuel tanks, the use of a welding torch by a scavenger to cut wanted parts from dumped vehicles, even a spark caused by the heat of sunlight focused through glass.
Former Public Works supervisor Francisco "Paquito" Melendez found credence in the sunlight theory. "With the temperature in the 90s and glass bottles all around, it can cause fires," he said.
Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood found the scavenger idea convincing, although he was 1,500 miles away from the site when the fire broke out.
Ironically, Callwood was in Orlando, Fla., on Monday, meeting with Federal Aviation Administration and Environmental Protection Agency authorities about landfill problems and the FAA's deadline of Dec. 31 for the V.I. government to shut Anguilla down altogether.
In a press release on Tuesday, Callwood said from Florida that he suspected the fire might have been caused by "individuals who illegally enter the landfill scavenging for parts and other discarded items."
In the release, he called for "a full investigation by the Attorney General's Office" into the matter. He pledged to push for prosecution of those responsible for the fire "and of the person or persons who may have either granted permission for scavengers to be on the landfill or failed to report the presence of scavengers in the facility."
Business as usual at Rohlsen Airport
At nearby Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, FAA personnel could not be reached for comment about the impact of the fire on airport operations, but an air traffic controller said it was business as usual on Tuesday.
On Monday, Fire Service Inspector Marcellino Ventura said, the wind conditions were favorable for uninterrupted airport operations, with the wind "keeping most of the smoke to the south."
Ground crew at the airport said operations remained the same throughout the day. "When we left around 10 p.m. last night it really began to flair," one worker said, referring to the Anguilla blaze, "but the airport was already closed."
About a year ago, the airport was shut down temporarily because of smoke, he said, and normally if there is poor visibility, inbound planes will be diverted to another airport or will be directed to change their approach and come in from the east.
Elroy Harrison, deputy director of operations for the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, said he checked out the Randall "Doc" James Racetrack a mile downwind of the landfill on Monday and again on Tuesday, and the facilities were unaffected by the smoke. He said he also confirmed with McKinley Welch, airport chief of security, that all was well.
VITEMA is the task force coordinating agency at the dump site and is charged with providing the resources requested. The Fire Service is in charge of staffing the command post. "Our firefighting operations have ceased. There is nothing we can do now," Deputy Fire Chief Roosevelt Parson said Tuesday. "We will work with Fergus and his team. We will work alongside him. We are here in case anything flares up."
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