Fire Department records an increasing number of garbage-fuelled fires

Garbage and heat make a potent combination. With peak summer fast approaching, drying trash, garden waste, paper and plastic litter on roadsides and on empty plots are catching fire, making for an increase in the number of calls received by the Fire and Rescue Services Department's 101 emergency helpline. On Sunday evening, ten fire tenders had to be called in to extinguish a fire inside the compound of Chennai Metrowater's sewage pumping station in Koyambedu. The fire, which took five hours to put out, had spread over a large area adjacent to the SAF Games Village. However, this is no isolated case as in the first two weeks of this month alone (from March 1 to 15), the fire department has received 34 such calls. Recently, when smoke caused by a fire at the Chennai Corporation's garbage dump yard in Kodungaiyur engulfed the area, and fire department personnel were called to help put it out.

“Since the garbage is dry, the smallest of sparks can start a fire. Carelessly thrown cigarette or beedi butts can set dry garden waste, paper and plastics ablaze,” said a source at the department. This year, January saw 46 calls and in February, the department received 68. Last year's figures were 49 for January, 44 in February and 55 in March.

The helpline gets around three to four calls every month from the Chennai Corporation asking for help in putting out fires in their garbage dump yards. “Large volumes of water are required to put out the flames in the dump yards. We ask the civic body to help us out with more water. They also use an earth mover to sift through the garbage so that we can put out the fire,” said the source. “Residents sometimes call us back and let us know that fires have been put out,” added the source. Sparks from transformers and electric lines too, seem to cause fires.

J.Ravi, of Kilburn Nagar in Madhavaramm, said garbage clearing was not very regular in his area. “Sometimes the conservancy staff who come to collect garbage door-to-door, do not ring the doorbell announcing their arrival and as a result, residents dump their garbage on the road side.On Sundays, people burn their garbage and garden waste. Those who startfires do not wait and cool the embers. They forget that there is a risk in that,” he said.

Sources at the Chennai Corporation said that apart from collecting garbage from homes and community bins, road sweeping was being done wherever necessary. “Residents throw garbage anywhere. They use empty plots to throw garbage. We cannot enter private property to clean garbage. They do not want to walk to the corner of the road to throw their garbage. We receive complaints from residents in Perungudi, Sholinganallur, Manali and Madhavaram about garbage in open plots,” said a source.

At the dumping yards, civic body officials explained that often people who collect metal from discarded wire and tyres would “burn these items quite close to the garbage and set it on fire. We do file complaints with the police but then when the police come, these people just escape and none of them has an address. There are some places in the compound walls where they have dug beneath the beam and enter the yard,” an official said.

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Deepa H. RamakrishnanJune 28, 2012

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