The village of Mayo is dealing with a dump fire that could end up burning all winter.
Mayo’s manager of public works, Scott Hamilton, said he suspects someone lit the landfill on fire over the Christmas holidays. The dump, which contains almost a year’s worth of refuse, has been burning since Dec. 28.
“It’s pretty much deemed an act of arson. Obviously there was an accumulation of Christmas wrap and boxes and stuff. Someone probably thought they needed to light that up without understanding the consequences,” Hamilton said, adding that the RCMP were notified but there are no suspects in the case.
With clear weather and almost no wind, a thick cloud of smoke continues to hang over the site this week, forcing authorities to close the dump.
“The smoke is very thick and right at ground level. Breathing conditions would be difficult even for a healthy person. The first thing to hope for is a change in weather where increased winds would help alleviate the smoke sitting there,” Hamilton said.
The fire is currently smoldering in the ground and poses no risk to the surrounding forest, said Hamilton.
For now, the town will monitor the fire as it continues to burn, Hamilton said. The fire appears to be contained to the front dumping site and the town hopes to open up alternate supervised dumping areas at the landfill on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., but it all hinges on the wind.
“It’s all dependent on clean air. Right now there’s not even enough clean air that you can do a proper assessment,” Hamilton said.
If the weather doesn’t clear, Yukon’s Department of Community Services has offered to supply the town with 13-cubic-yard collection bins. Residents could also take their trash to Keno or Stewart Crossing if absolutely necessary, said Community Services spokesman Matt King.
Fighting the fire directly isn’t an option right now, said Hamilton, because it would require heavy equipment and would pull resources and firefighters away from their primary job of protecting the town.
Dump fires can be particularly nasty to fight. They burn deep, making the source difficult to trace from the surface, and fire crews often don’t know what materials in the ground are burning. That makes them dangerous and unpredictable. This fire could burn for weeks, or possibly even months.
“It’s possible, but not probable. Everything eventually burns out. It’s hard to say what’s burning under there. It could be a pile of tires underneath there burning and it could go on for a long time. You could pour millions of liters of water on it and still miss the area that you’re wanting it to go. In the city here in Whitehorse, we have brought in heavy equipment to dig away at (past dump fires), but that’s a major undertaking,” said Wayne Smyth, a Yukon deputy fire marshal.
But Smyth agreed that even if the dump continues to burn for weeks, it doesn’t pose any danger to the surrounding area.
“Is it going to go anywhere? No, probably not,” Smyth said.
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