Daryl Jaschen, director of the V.I. Territory Emergency Management Agency, said the Bovoni landfill would close early Monday to allow a road to be built leading to the site to allow firefighters better access to the 10-day-old burn.
Government officials from the V.I. Health Department, V.I. Fire and Emergency Services and VITEMA updated the public on the fire consisting of green — now dry and brown — debris that has filled the dump since the 2017 hurricanes. None of the officials would or could say what percentage of the fire has been contained.
Jaschen said during the weekly Government House press briefing that even with Tropical Storm Philippe forming in the east, no rain is expected to help firefighters — the storm is expected to track to the north.
Antonio Stevens, Fire and Emergency Medical Services assistant director said the smoke is a direct result of the firefighting process. He listed four methods being used to suppress the fire.
“As we work to control and diminish the fires, primary efforts are involved — excavation, dousing, separation and suppression. These intensive efforts produce more smoke than one might typically see,” Stevens said.
The small size of the island prevented the debris from being spread out more to prevent spontaneous combustion, Stevens explained as one reason the fire started.
“Percentage? I would say we are a lot farther than we were when we first started. We’ve made significant headway,” he said. “Just give us a few more days.”
In addition to the firefighters, a maintenance crew is present to keep the machinery in good working order. Personnel from St. Croix are also helping. Stevens thanked the community for the outpouring of donations and the work of the firefighters.
According to Justa Encarnacion, Health commissioner, the department will begin community health assessments Tuesday. Around 20 Health personnel will interview people living in the neighborhood regarding possible effects from the smoke. They will also ask questions about general health, exposure to the smoke and fire and pre-existing conditions. She said air quality tests conducted by the V.I. National Guard indicate no toxins have been released into the air.
“Our mobile health vans are strategically positioned away from the fire station, offering much-needed relief with cool air, regular health assessments and respite from smoke exposure,” she said, adding the vans are staffed with experienced EMTs and can provide medical checks and address injuries for firefighters if needed.
Stevens said there have been no injuries at the site except a few bumps and scrapes. Encarnacion said they have been monitoring the hospitals and no injuries have been reported.
Maj. Gen. Kodjo Knox-Limbacker, commander of the V.I. National Guard, talked about the nature of landfill fires around the country. He said there are around 8,300 such burns annually and some last for months. He said people should stay away from the fire to keep safe.
Jaschen and Encarnacion both spoke about the high temperatures expected in the territory this week. Residents should hydrate frequently, wear light-colored clothing and call 911 if heat stroke is suspected.