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Cause of Bovoni Landfill Fire Probed

April 8, 2008 — Firefighters and other emergency first responders flocked to the Bovoni Landfill early Wednesday and contained a fire that sent up plumes of smoke seen as far as Sub Base and smelled in Havensight.
Within 40 minutes after the initial call alerting officials to a fire and possible explosion at the Bovoni dump site, half a dozen agencies were on site.
Steve Parris of the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency said VITEMA personnel arrived within an hour of the call, assessing the situation and notifying federal partners.
At a noontime press conference, Police Commissioner James McCall said the "fire is still under investigation. The call came in at 9:15 a.m. of an explosion and fire at Bovoni dump. At that time agencies were dispatched."
Mel D. Vanterpool, director of the V.I. Office of Homeland Security said the cause of the fire and explosion is under investigation.
At the press conference, Fire Chief Glenn Francis said that there were 30 to 40 fire personnel keeping the area wetted down.
"Fumes were from rubber, petroleum, engine oil, rubber tires. The fumes are toxic to some extent, but not serious," he said. Favorable winds worked to the firefighters’ advantage, and had moved the plume off island, the chief told reporters.
Four people received treatment for fire-related injuries in the emergency room of the Roy Lester Schneider Hospital. One of the injured was a firefighter responding to the incident who was overcome by heat and smoke. He was treated and released.
As of 2:45 p.m., only one of the injured remained in the hospital. The victim, an employee working at the landfill, was injured in a vehicle accident at the landfill when he tried to investigate the explosion and fire. He was released after several hours of close observation and diagnostics.
A heavy equipment operator who received second-degree burns was also treated and released. A nearby resident of Estate Nadir reported to the emergency room with complaints of a "burning sensation" and difficulty breathing, after stating that she was outside her home facing the landfill when she said the explosion occurred. She was treated and released.
"The EPA Air Quality Control personnel are still assessing the levels of toxicity," said Kent Bernier, environmental specialist for the Division of Environmental Protection.
Bernier said that the Bovoni fire is simple and that his organization’s job is to make sure that residents have notice if there are concerns for air quality. He said the incident is not the biggest he has seen on the island.
The close by Clinton Phipps Racetrack racetrack served as the staging area for those responding to the incident.
Police Commissioner McCall said the agencies worked together according to an emergency plan practiced several times a year. "We implemented the plan and everyone proceeded at their task," he said.
The Bovoni fire response and other incidents which require multi-departmental cooperation follow disaster-preparedness protocol, which requires regular training exercises.
While the fire was being contained, Francis ordered evacuation of Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School and put a shelter in place for Antilles School. Boschulte students were evacuated to Four Winds Plaza, but will be back in class Thursday morning, according to a release from the St. Thomas-St. John District.
"Students and staff are asked to report to school at the regularly scheduled time tomorrow," said Jeanette Smith Barry, acting superintendent for the district. "We are further asking parents of all public school students to take the necessary precautions for their children that suffer from any respiratory or bronchial illnesses. Health personnel will be available at the various schools to render assistance as needed."
Smith lauded the response of the various emergency agencies and others for maintaining safety for the students and staff particularly, and the community in general.

The Bovoni dump site fire, seen around noon from the incident staging area set up at the Clinton Phipps Race Track.

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