A fire broke out at Htein Bin rubbish dump in Hlinethaya Township on 21 April and has been burning for five days straight. Yangon Region Chief Minister
U Phyo Min Thein said that 80 per cent of the fire has been extinguished and they are able to contain the spread of the flames. The biggest challenge is reducing air pollution caused by the fire but the Chief Minister said authorities have built a pipe network to create artificial rain and are also readying firefighting foam to smother the flames.
- U Phyo Min Thein,
Yangon Region Chief Minister
Q: How has the regional government addressed the Htein Bin fire?
A: As you know, the main cause of the fire was the buildup of methane from the rubbish dump. We do not possess the technology to dispose of garbage systematically, so methane under the massive rubbish dump has been building up over the years. We tried to put out the fire on the first day but the fire had expanded to over 100 acres and resisted all attempts at extinguishing. The combined forces of the fire services department, reserved firefighters, and the police force have been hard at work to put out the fire. Our biggest challenge right now is containing the gas emissions from the burning rubbish. The pollution caused by this has had health risks to the neighboring area, and in fact we’ve had thirteen inpatients but we have also prepared responses to the situation.
We are changing tactics in handling the situation. In addition to the firefighters we will use a system of six pipes to simulate rain and pour it over the entire area. I’m personally overseeing the situation. We will use drones to survey the area and see where we need to give more attention. We have also ordered biofoam from Thailand as an alternative to spraying water.
The military is also providing valuable assistance whether it’s personnel, equipment and supplies, or helping in relocating elderly people who live too close to the rubbish dump. We can and have controlled the fire, but there’s the smoke rising from the burning rubbish deep under the dump that is polluting the air. I want the people to know that there is no risk of the fire spreading into other areas, but there will still be gas emissions. We have also increased security in Hlinethaya since it’s an industrial zone and we don’t want additional unnecessary problems. I believe we have things under control. We are working hard to completely stop the gas from spreading out.
Q: There have been reports of deaths from this incident. What is your response to that?
A: So far thirteen people have been hospitalised. Yesterday (24 April), a 61-year-old lady had difficulty breathing, so we treated her with an oxygen mask. She went back home, but today (25 April) we received news that she had passed away. The hospital has not contacted us regarding the reasons for her death and we do not know if she has other health-related issues. But this is what I’m worried about. If people with health problems cannot receive clean air, then it’s an additional problem for them. We are closely monitoring the situation and working for better solutions.
Q: When do you think the fire will be completely put out?
A: I’m calling a meeting with all department heads tonight (25 April) at 8pm. We already have plans to simulate rain and use biofoam. We also have a plan to blanket the area with fire-resistant cloths and pour water on it to contain the fire and gas emissions. We’re aiming to completely put out the fire by tomorrow.
Q: What safety measures are taken for the firefighters at the rubbish dump?
A: Since the rubbish dump spans a large area, we only allow personnel to advance if we are sure the route is 100 per cent safe for them. There have been reports of breathing difficulties from firefighting personnel, but no reports of deaths yet.
Q: Do you have any preventive measures to ensure something similar doesn’t happen in the future?
A: A rubbish dump this size has had small-scale incidents of methane combustion, but a combination of the hot weather and heat accumulated under the rubbish ignited the methane gases that resulted in this large-scale fire. We have installed pipelines into the rubbish dump to allow the trapped methane gases to escape outside. Our biofoam supply is not large enough to cover the entire area, so we are ordering more biofoam supplies from Thailand and we will prepare supplies to combat future incidents.
Q: How will you handle the existing rubbish dumps to prevent similar incidents?
A: The final sites for dumping rubbish collected over the city are Dawei Chaung and Htein Bin. We have installed pipes into them to let the trapped gases leak out. We have to work harder to make sure something similar doesn’t happen again.
- U Maung Maung Soe,
Mayor of Yangon
Q: How are you handling the Htein Bin rubbish dump fire?
A: We’re handling the fire extinguishing and health services for this. We’ve managed to reduce the fire by 80 per cent and we’ve managed to order biofoam from Thailand. We need 5,000 gallons of biofoam, but we will only receive 1,800 gallons, so we have to make the most of it. The YCDC and health-related departments are handling the health services for local residents.
Q: How long will it take to put out the fire with biofoam?
A: Biofoam will coat the rubbish and prevent contact with oxygen. Right now we have 40 gallons of biofoam and we mixed it with one per cent water to douse the fire. The recommended ratio is 10 per cent water but we need to conserve as much of the foam so we mixed it one per cent water first. Even then it’s still effective, so I think 1,800 gallons will be enough.
The situation is also dangerous for the firefighters. They have to be careful where they step, as the rubbish pile beneath them can give way and if they fall in, the high temperatures can cause fourth or fifth-degree burns.
Q: A lot of townships reported a burning smell the other night.
A: It’s cooler at night, so the gases don’t rise up and instead get blown all over the place. But it’s not at a stage that causes suffocation. We are trying to contain the gases, but for now the townships will just get the smell of something burning.
Q: Are there preventive measures in place for these kinds of incidents?
A: Myanmar has had similar incidents before. We do not have the sufficient equipment to deal with it yet. We are investing in converting rubbish into alternative energy sources and also installing a methane extraction system in the rubbish dumps. It’s costly, but if we are able to do it, we will do it.
Q: Are there any private organisations or individuals helping out with this?
A: At first the YCDC and the fire department addressed the issue. Then the military arrived followed by the Irrigation Department. The military has provided massive help with a large force of personnel and equipment. We will first flush water into the dump to make the rubbish all wet, then we will coat it with biofoam. All respective ministries and departments have provided help so far.
By Yi Yi Myint and Ohn Mar Thant