Over 24 hours ago, the Delhi Fire Service (DFS) received the first call about a blaze at the Ghazipur landfill in east Delhi. The garbage mountain, which stands almost as tall as the Qutub Minar, is on fire since Monday, 28 March afternoon.
At least 16 fire tenders and over 90 firefighters have been deployed in the last 24 hours to douse the flames, said DFS chief Atul Garg. No casualties have been reported so far but a cloud of smoke has engulfed the areas nearby, with pollution levels peaking.
Once the fire is doused, the cooling operation will begin. Garg said that this is the first reported fire incident of 2022 from the Ghazipur landfill.
Challenges in Dousing the Fire
“In the past too, fires at landfills have taken a lot longer to be brought under control. Everything that is dumped in landfills – e-waste, vegetable waste, medical waste, plastic, cloth – burns easily. So, even after the fire is doused, there are small pockets that keep smouldering,” said Garg.
On 28 March, at 2.37 pm, DFS received the fire call, and since then the firefighting efforts have been on. Senior fire official Manoj Sharma, who was at the spot on day one, said that the other challenge is access.
Sharma told The Quint, “There are edges of this garbage mountain that are beyond our reach. Neither the hose nor the firemen can reach that area. The JCB that the civic body has deployed daily to dump the garbage pushes portions down, and then we douse it. This is a time consuming exercise.”
Garg said that there is always the risk of a portion of the garbage mountain falling on the firemen, and hence extra caution is taken, which increases the firefighting time.
“It’s not as if there is a road or a path to take to reach the spot on the mountain, the firefighters can get stuck in the mound or small-intensity blasts can take place. The fire tenders can also tilt and fall, so there are major safety concerns,” he added.
Release of Toxic Gases From Landfill Put Firefighters At Risk
Sharma said that another challenge that the fire fighters face is the toxic gases that are released from the landfill.
He said, “There is every imaginable thing dumped at the landfill so when portions of it go up in flames, we have no idea what toxic gases we are exposed to. Firefighters are masked but there’s still risk, which we are now used to.”
"Landfill fires are very common in India and a huge cause of air pollution in cities. Yet, municipalities do not insist that Delhi residents segregate waste. Wet waste decomposition releases methane gas that is highly combustible and the major cause of landfill fires. Unsegregated waste is dumped every day and we need to address this. Wet waste should be composted in a decentralised way and all recyclables such as paper, metal and glass should be segregated out. This way very little waste, mostly inert, will reach the landfills," said Chitra Mukherjee, expert on circular economy and sustainable livelihood.
Delhi’s Environment Minister Gopal Rai has asked the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) “to look into the fire incident at Ghazipur and submit a report on the matter within 24 hours.” He said that “strict action will be taken against those found to be negligent.”
Meanwhile, the Delhi Police has filed an FIR against unknown persons under sections 336 (whoever does any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life or the personal safety of others), 285 (negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible matter), and 278 (making atmosphere noxious to health) of the IPC, said Additional DCP (East) Vinit Kumar.