The firefight at the Bovoni landfill on St. Thomas has, in 18 days, shown progressive signs of containment, V.I. Fire and Emergency Medical Services announced Sunday.
According to V.I. Fire EMS Director Daryl George, the fire’s status as of Sunday is the best it has been since the blaze was first reported on Sept. 14 in the green waste area of the landfill. Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. declared a State of Emergency in the territory on Sept. 18.
“The rainfall over the past 12 hours has aided our efforts,” George said on Sunday in a press release. “In the upcoming 24 hours, we’ll continue suppression and excavation operations and initiate the removal of extinguished vegetative debris. These necessary phases continue to ensure the safety and well-being of our community,” he said.
VIFEMS firefighters from St. Thomas and St. Croix, as well as personnel from the V.I. National Guard, the Waste Management Authority, Police Department and the Territorial Emergency Management Agency, have battled the blaze, concentrated in a large crater in the landfill’s vegetative debris pile, for more than 12 hours each day, in extremely dry conditions with excessive heat warnings in effect, according to the press release.
Smoke conditions due to the extinguishing efforts have fluctuated, with residents as far west as Cyril E. King Airport reporting the smell of smoke, the press release stated.
The Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School, which was closed to in-person classes at the outset of the fire, began virtual instruction on Sept. 25. The Education Department and VIFEMS officials are working to determine the readiness of BCB for the reopening of school, which will require the cleaning of air conditioning filters and deep cleaning of classrooms. The Antilles School reopened last week, it said.
Out of concern for both personnel and the public, the V.I. National Guard’s 23rd Civil Support Team came from St. Croix to conduct air quality testing in the areas surrounding BCB and Antilles School, according to the release.
The CST’s reports have consistently shown no chemical or hazardous materials or toxins in the smoke originating from this fire. The smoke is generated by burning vegetative debris that is organic — consisting of discarded trees and shrubs. The smoke and air were tested for any elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, oxygen, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, sulfur dioxide, and chlorine. In every test, there were no elevated levels of any chemical compound found, the release stated.
“With these reports, the unified command team engaged with partners from the Environmental Protection Agency, which found that there was no imminent health danger to the community based on the chemical makeup of the smoke,” according to the release.
Due to the size of the fire and the large amounts of smoke being generated as firefighters gain ground every day, the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources has been conducting further air monitoring of the ash particulate matter being scattered by the fire, the release stated.
Last week, the V.I. Health Department conducted outreach in the surrounding neighborhoods, meeting and talking with residents about how they’ve been affected by the smoke conditions. Additionally, the department has operated a mobile health van on site to provide fire emergency crews with air conditioning, hydration and access to Emergency Medical Technicians since the fire began. To date, there have been no hospitalizations or 911 emergency calls due to the smoke or fire, it said.
One family (one adult and five minor children) that lived within the bounds of the landfill was temporarily relocated with the assistance of the V.I. Human Services Department and the Tourism Department for the duration of the fire operations, according to the release.
Emergency crews have been supported throughout the firefighting operation by community organizations and businesses that have donated meals and drinks, it said.