Fire at Cleanaway's New Chum landfill site on July 19.
Fire at Cleanaway's New Chum landfill site on July 19.

Mystery remains over what started landfill fire

THE CAUSE of the dump blaze which sent plumes of thick smoke through Ipswich, reigniting longstanding issues about waste operators in the city, could not be determined after an investigation into the fire.

It broke out at waste company Cleanaway’s New Chum site on July 19.

The facility is a kilometre from homes and smoke from the fire shrouded surrounding suburbs.

The smell of burning waste was reported in the Ipswich CBD; about nine kilometres from the New Chum site.

The Department of Environment and Science issued the company with an Environmental Protection Order.

It meant the company had to conduct an investigation into the source, cause and extent of the fire and review its security arrangements of the premises.

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Cleanaway were also required to engage an independent party to conduct an investigation into the current stockpile management processes and fire management arrangements and provide a list of recommendations to prevent a surface landfill fire occurring again.

The report of the investigation stated on July 19, a security guard identified the fire on stockpile 1 of the facility’s resource recovery area 2 and notified Queensland Fire and Emergency Services and site personnel.

“Through the notification and escalation chain, site management and machine operators were at the site within the hour and proceeded to manage the fire with onsite equipment,” it noted.

“The flames were extinguished by 9pm, site personnel remained on site to manage flare ups and hot spots throughout the night.

“The fire on 19 July 2020 burnt the top outside portion of the stockpile.

“It was surficial, to an approximate depth of 300mm to 500mm.”

The report found a number of potential causes were identified but each of these were either “unlikely or inconclusive.”

Fire at Cleanaway's New Chum landfill site on July 19.
Fire at Cleanaway's New Chum landfill site on July 19.

Possible causes included spontaneous combustion, compacting the combustion source (a battery or flare was compacted), magnification source (material, such as glass, refracted light and became an ignition source) and external influence.

The report stated that a hole had been cut in the site’s perimeter fence but it was “unclear” when the hole had been made.

It stated the site has a history of unauthorised entry and regular security patrols of the facility already in place were recently upgraded prior to the fire.

The report said further upgrades to security presence were increased after the fire.

Materials received into the RRA in the three days leading up to the fire included construction and demolition waste, limited commercial and industrial waste, concrete and timber, the report stated.

A DES spokesman said Cleanaway had “addressed all requirements” of the EPO.

“This report detailed the company’s investigation into the possible causes of the fire,” they said.

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“The investigation determined the blaze was unlikely to have been caused by spontaneous combustion or the compaction of a combustion source, such as a battery, within the stockpile due to the management procedures currently in place.

“The investigation was unable to rule out a magnification source, such as glass reflected light, or arson as the cause of the fire.

“Cleanaway was also required to engage an independent appropriately qualified person to conduct an investigation into the stockpile management processes and the fire management arrangements.

“A report on this investigation was submitted to the department on 31 August 2020, and the department is currently reviewing the report.

“The department will continue to closely monitor Cleanaway’s activities to ensure they are doing everything in their power to prevent similar incidents at their facility.”

A Cleanaway spokesman said its operations at the site were reviewed as part of the investigation.

In response to the fire, the company said it had upgraded the afterhours security from two-hourly patrols to residing on site during on-operational hours.

Water carts are being left filled at the RRA at the end of the shift.

“We have reviewed our operations at the site to understand the extent to which we can change practices at the site to reduce the risk of similar incidents occurring,” he said.

“We have progressed quotes for security cameras at various locations at the facility, including thermal sensing technology.”

Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.



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