27 Dec 2016

Tonga Govt issues warnings after fire at landfill

5:57 pm on 27 December 2016

Firefighters on Tonga's main island of Tongatapu had to battle a massive fire at the Tapuhia Landfill rubbish dump on Christmas Day

Massive fire at Tonga's Tapuhia landfill in Nukualofa

Massive fire at Tonga's Tapuhia landfill in Nukualofa Photo: Matangi Tonga

About 20 firefighters were sent to Tapuhia, assisted by an emergency team of 50 members from the defence services, police, and the National Emergency Management Office.

Matangi Tonga online reports firefighters described it as the biggest fire they have ever encountered, and over half a million litres of water had been trucked to the site, which was still smouldering and emitting toxic fumes.

Deputy Fire Commissioner Sinamoni Kauvaka told Matangi Tonga that security at the site reported that the fire had caused explosions in the waste, because some of the old cars in the landfill still contained petrol.

"At this point we are trying to extinguish the fire and then the cause will be investigated," he said.

An excavator was brought in to help move and dismantle the rubbish so they are able to hose down the fumes.

Tonga's Environment Department stated that the Christmas landfill fire had been significantly contained on Monday by the "tireless efforts" of the emergency services and others.

The government also issued warnings today for the public to stay clear of the smoke from the landfill as toxic fumes are still being emitted from hot spots that remain.

"The likely impact to the environment and human health through the emission of toxic fumes has also been reduced greatly, however, nearby commuters are hereby advised to proceed with caution while outdoors, until the fumes are no longer visible," they stated today.

Fire at Tapuhia landfill in Tonga

Fire at Tapuhia landfill in Tonga Photo: Matangi Tonga

A spokesperson at Tapuhia said that the fire was sparked off deep in the area where perishable trash is buried in layers.

The new landfill was part of a $US1.21 million or $2.7 million pa'anga project, funded by the Australian Government, the Tongan Government and the Asian Development Bank and was handed over nearly two years ago on 13 January 2015.

Fire at Tapuhia landfill, Tonga.

Fire at Tapuhia landfill, Tonga. Photo: Matangi Tonga