An Enormous Landfill Spontaneously Combusted in India

An Enormous Landfill Spontaneously Combusted in India
A man walks through the Bhalswa landfill as the fire rages. (Photo: Manish Swarup, AP)

It’s hot enough in India to make one of Delhi’s biggest trash piles spontaneously combust. A fire began last Tuesday at the Bhalswa landfill, a massive site in northeast Delhi that lies along a canal that connects to the Yamuna River. The huge landfill, which takes mostly unsorted waste, is as tall as a 17-story building and takes up more than 50 acres, Quartz India reports. Dramatic videos posted to Twitter by passerby last week show an ominously glowing mountain of trash.

Fires at Landfills Throughout City

A van drives past the burning landfill. (Photo: Manish Swarup, AP)A van drives past the burning landfill. (Photo: Manish Swarup, AP)

Fires at the landfill are not uncommon, but this fire began seemingly out of nowhere last Tuesday, and the cause is still unknown. Experts say that the extreme heatwave India has been suffering through in recent weeks, coupled with the massive amount of methane built up in the landfill waste disposal, were likely what caused this blaze to spark, the AP reports. Fires at two other landfill sites in the city also broke out last week, and firefighters battled another blaze at a separate landfill at the end of March, when temperatures in the city reached 40 degrees Celsius.

Intense Temperatures in India

Firefighters attempt to put out the blaze on April 27. (Photo: Manish Swarup, AP)Firefighters attempt to put out the blaze on April 27. (Photo: Manish Swarup, AP)

Officials say this year saw the highest average maximum temperature recorded in India during March in more than 120 years, with a national average maximum of 33.10 degrees Celsius, compared to the 1981 to 2010 average maximum of 31.24 degrees Celsius.

‘Spontaneous Combustion Will Take Place’

A woman looks for usable items in the landfill as the fire rages around her. (Photo: Manish Swarup, AP)A woman looks for usable items in the landfill as the fire rages around her. (Photo: Manish Swarup, AP)

“With high temperatures, this spontaneous combustion will take place,” Ravi Agarwal, the director of New Delhi-based advocacy group Toxics Link, told the AP.

More Intense Heatwaves for India’s Hot Season

Fire officials look on. (Photo: Manish Swarup, AP)Fire officials look on. (Photo: Manish Swarup, AP)

India has seen an incredibly intense beginning to its heatwave season this year, which begins in March and stretches until June or July. Last week, some regions saw temperatures as high as 48 degrees Celsius, while ground temperatures hit 50 degrees Celsius. The IPCC has found that extreme heatwaves are now much more common than they were a few decades ago, and severe heatwaves could become even more normal if we don’t curb warming. (Landfills like Bhalswa, by the way, are also a significant source of methane, an incredibly potent greenhouse gas that the world must begin cutting over the next decade to combat worst-case climate scenarios.)

Residents Experiencing Health Problems from Smoke

A boy rides his bike in a neighbourhood near the Bhalswa landfill, as smoke from the fire fills the air. (Photo: Manish Swarup, AP)A boy rides his bike in a neighbourhood near the Bhalswa landfill, as smoke from the fire fills the air. (Photo: Manish Swarup, AP)

Thick toxic smoke from the fire spread across neighbourhoods near the landfill last week, forcing a nearby school to close; some residents on Friday filed an official complaint about the fire with local authorities. People living near the blaze have told officials they are experiencing itchy eyes, sore throats, and breathing problems as a result of the smoke.

‘Remove the Whole Dump Yard From Here’

Officials take a break from firefighting. (Photo: Manish Swarup, AP)Officials take a break from firefighting. (Photo: Manish Swarup, AP)

“The solution to combat these kinds of situations is to remove the whole dump yard from here,” an unidentified local man told Indian news service ANI. “People are not able to live here due to bad air and water. Several requests were made to remove [the] dump yard but nothing happened.”

More Than 907 kg of Trash Dumped Each Day

A woman stands near the edge of the landfill. (Photo: Manish Swarup, AP)A woman stands near the edge of the landfill. (Photo: Manish Swarup, AP)

On Sunday, the city’s fire services bureau told the Times of India that while the fire was no longer burning out of control, smaller blazes and smoke were keeping fire crews busy. The AP reported that the landfill was supposed to be closed more than a decade ago, but more than 907 kg of trash are still dumped in the landfill each day. In 2017, following heavy rains, the towering landfill collapsed into the nearby canal, killing two people.