Notwithstanding the frequent fire outbreaks at the Kochi Corporation’s Brahmapuram solid waste treatment plant since 2019, not always were the Fire and Rescue Services called in to fight the exigency, it has emerged.
As per the report submitted by District Police Chief (Kochi City) K. Sethu Raman to the Chief Secretary on the March 2 fire at the plant, only on 15 occasions in the last five years were firefighters brought in to douse fire outbreaks. Seven such incidents were attended by the Fire and Rescue Services department in 2019, one in 2020, two in 2021, one in 2022, and four so far this year.
Despite this being the case, only three cases have been registered in the last five years, with two of them being registered by the Infopark police after the March 2 fire. Incidentally, the only other case that was registered in 2019 was closed as ‘undetected’ the very next year.
The report suggests that fire outbreaks in dumping yards and landfills occur in two ways — surface fire and sub-surface fire. Surface fire occurs mostly on the surface of landfills. They are the most common and occur during the burning of refuse at low temperature leading to the emission of dense white smoke. Sub-surface fires are more complex and are triggered by relatively old waste. They produce carbon monoxide and products of incomplete combustion such as dioxins and furans.
The dense black smoke that billowed out of the Brahmapuram yard for days emitting dioxins and furans following the March 2 blaze pointed to sub-surface fire. The fire started from sector 2 of legacy waste that is more than 13 years old. CCTV visuals showed that the spread of the fire was extremely rapid.
The fire broke out at 3.58 p.m. and engulfed the whole area by 4.03 p.m. Given the age of waste and gases emitted after the fire, it is likely that underground fire and hotspots are prevalent throughout the dump.