Statement on Sunday’s Massive Fire – House of Assembly
March 8, 2017
The Hon. Kenred M.A. Dorsett
Minister of the Environment and Housing
Commonwealth of The Bahamas
Statement on Sunday’s Massive Fire
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
I rise in this Honourable House once again by God’s grace and mercy. I acknowledge that over the past 72 hours I have not publicly expressed it and I dare say we as a people have not vocalized enough, our thanks to the Almighty, who has by His mighty hand delivered us out of catastrophic circumstances with life and limb still intact.
On the morning of Sunday, March 5, when my agency, was alerted to the fire, which, Fire Chief, Superintendent Walter Evans has now confirmed started in bushes in the immediate vicinity behind the Epic Battery Fire Trail Road location, the Fire Department was contacted and the Department of Environmental Health followed its fire containment protocols.
Due to the dry environment and the strong winds, the fire spread from the area behind Epic Battery on Fire Trail Road to the bush and coppice west of Epic Battery and to the eastern periphery of Jubilee Gardens and also to an area of the New Providence landfill to the north west of Epic Battery in less than an hour of its first sighting.
I was immediately on the ground to ensure that my fellow Bahamians living there were out of harm’s way. On route to the New Providence landfill, I visited Jubilee Gardens and made contact with Captain Russell, the Director of NEMA, instructing him of the potential threat of a catastrophic event due to the dry conditions and strong winds. My colleague Mr. Leslie Miller, representative of the area of Tall Pines was on the ground and the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie, Prime Minister of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas was on the ground leading the way to ensure that necessary evacuations in the Jubilee Gardens Subdivision were in effect. The Royal Bahamas Police Force and Royal Bahamas Defence Force assisted with securing and monitoring homes in Jubilee Gardens and the evacuation process.
The bush fire spread to an area on the eastern periphery of several businesses including propane gas companies, along Gladstone Road. By Sunday evening, due to strong winds and embers, the fire spread to an area across Gladstone Road, west of the Royal Bahamas Police Force Shooting Range and Aquinas College.
The fire at the New Providence landfill, spread to the green waste disposal area and flying embers spread to the existing tipping floor.
To date several families including children were evacuated as a result of the fire, with the assistance of the Department of Social Services. The Ministry of Health and Health Officials including Clinics were on standby to provide medical attention to residents and persons impacted by the fires. Ambulances were also deployed to the scene to provide immediate assistance to those who may have required medical attention. As Prime Minister Christie stated on Monday, assessments will be conducted on all homes and businesses impacted by the fire in an effort for the government to provide necessary assistance. And again I want to reiterate that no homes were destroyed during the blaze as erroneously reported on social media but from the naked eye considerable soot and smoke damage appeared evident throughout the Jubilee sub-division affected. Towards this end, while no definite date can be given for the return of residents affected by the fire, Fire Superintendent Walter Evans advised me yesterday that significant improvement has occurred in the area, namely the visibility level increasing and color of smoke changing which makes breathing bearable for residents.
We are now four days in – since the unfortunate burning of bush and coppice and the landfill began. We have extinguished the bush fire which threatened Jubilee Gardens by using fire trucks and heavy equipment. However, the Fire Department remains present and vigilant.
In relation to the fire which entered the landfill from the bush, containment efforts have yielded great results through the use of fire trucks, water from existing wells and new and expanded wells, water trucks, water pumps and hoses, heavy equipment, human resources and significant fill cover to reduce oxygen. That work continues.
To ensure that no stone was left unturned, I also reached out to the Government of the United States for assistance. Those discussions continue.
Through concerted efforts, 18 hour plus shifts and extra manpower, I am happy to report that containing the fire at the New Providence Landfill is resulting in much success.
I want to take this time to offer public thanks to Fire Chief, Superintendent Walter Evans, and the Royal Bahamas Police Force, Commodore Tellis Bethel, and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force; the Fire Department of the Airport Authority; Youth Environmental Corps Apprentices; Members of the Public Parks & Public Beaches Authority, Water & Sewerage, Bahamas Power & Light, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Health, the Ministry of Works & Urban Development, the Ministry of Youth, Sports & Culture, heavy equipment and trucking companies and contractors, Aquapure Water, the Director of the Department of Environmental Health Services, Melony McKenzie; Senior Deputy Director Thomasina Wilson, and all of the hardworking, dedicated and committed DEHS Staff for working around the clock to return residents to normalcy by extinguishing fires at the landfill and the bushes in the surrounding area.
Smoke elimination efforts continue, in the bushes east and west of Gladstone Road and the New Providence landfill.
While we may speculate as to the cause of the fire, the Royal Bahamas Police Force has not determined conclusively how it started. However, they have confirmed that it did not start at the New Providence landfill.
Notwithstanding the above, wherever the fire started, it spread and has adversely affected residents and businesses near and far. The government and all of its agencies and our private sector partners will continue to work until the fire and smoke are completely extinguished.
A new temporary tipping floor has been completed under the guidance and instruction of our consultant engineers and today the landfill resumes tipping of all waste streams excluding construction and demolition waste.
Another tipping floor is being completed, also under the direction of our consultant engineers, which will enable us to resume full waste receiving activities next week.
Bins for electronic waste, hazardous waste, plastics, tyres and white waste will be placed on the landfill to ensure that such wastes are not tipped into the landfill. In a few weeks additional bins will be placed at the entrance of the landfill to enable tipping of wastes under 100 lbs to be facilitated thus ensuring that private vehicles and trucks do not have to enter the landfill.
Green waste, will be diverted to a specified area under the control of The Bahamas Public Parks and Public Beaches Authority. Green waste will be sorted and mulched. The material will be made available for the use of farmers and for island wide beautification. The public should also note that mulch from hurricane debris is now available at the Department of Environmental Health Services on Farrington Road and contact should be made to that office for persons interested in accessing the same.
One of our major shipping partners, will visit the New Providence landfill later this week and we will begin placing all used tyres on the Nassau landfill in containers for shipment out of the country.
The Government has completed a comprehensive plan for the New Providence landfill. It outlines all efforts that will be undertaken at the New Providence landfill to solve the challenges faced. Currently, the public should be advised that additional water wells will be drilled, trenched and capped around the entire site to better facilitate fire fighting efforts. In addition, a buffer around the entire site will be cleared to ensure ease of access and mobility for security monitoring the perimeter and proper perimeter security fencing and checkpoints will be established to eliminate illegal entry into the New Providence landfill.
Methane extraction technologies will also be used to mitigate against future fires in areas that have been covered and compacted. The public should also note that after 13 years of no compaction taking place at the landfill, when the DEHS took over the New Providence landfill a fews weeks ago, we tested and then employed the use of a compactor for daily operations.
We remain resolved and committed to extinguish all of the fires and eliminate all of the smoke. By the direction of the Prime Minister, the Government will also assist all residents and businesses impacted by the fire and our assessments will begin in earnest once the fire at the Nassau landfill is out. Our prayers, thoughts and actions are all directed toward our brothers and sisters who live in Jubilee Gardens and the surrounding areas. They deserve our focused attention our kindness and compassion.
Thank you Mr. Speaker.