St. Thomas Fire Official Says End of BVI Blaze Days Away

One of the 10 responders who traveled from the U.S. to the British Virgin Islands to help battle a Tortola landfill fire said it may take two to three more days before the West End blaze is under control.

Deputy Fire Chief Antonio Stevens said the purpose of the trip to the Cox Heath Landfill was to assess the situation and offer help.

The response of seven members of the V.I. Fire Service and three officers from the V.I. Police Department Marine Unit came one day after Cox Heath erupted into a massive blaze. Stevens said the assessment by visiting responders pointed to a need for more equipment and better methods of fire suppression.

Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter authorized the trip. According to other government officials, it was not the first time the territory’s firefighters extended help to their northern neighbors since the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria last September.

The emergency response by Tortola responders began around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. By the following afternoon flames still covered a wide area at the landfill. The fire remained visible from as far as a mile away early Friday morning.

Stevens, who serves as training director for the fire service in the U.S.V.I., said water tanks and fire suppressing foam are being sent to Cox Heath. Also included in the list of supplies on loan are water monitors that provide a continuous spray once set in place.

Visiting responders also brought some expertise fresh from their efforts in fighting a dump fire at the Anguilla Landfill on St. Croix for four days in March.

Once additional equipment and supplies are deployed and mitigation steps completed, Stevens said the U.S.V.I. team will return to Cox Heath to monitor progress.

B.V.I. responders are also being advised to sort the debris pile at Cox Heath, which Stevens said stands 25 feet high, 120 yards wide. Because the pile is unsorted, there is no way to tell what types of debris will produce toxic smoke when burned.

That feature of the landfill fire poses a concern for the neighboring islands of St. Thomas and St. John. But Jamal Nielsen, a spokesman for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, says no effort has begun to monitor air quality.

“We have not received any complaints,” Nielsen said. “If we are impacted, our Division of Environmental Protection Air Pollution Program will utilize all of its resources to ascertain the extent of the impact to the community, and will send out an appropriate advisory.”