A fire that began on Thursday afternoon at a Pietermaritzburg dumping site prompted the early closure on Friday of as many as 10 schools in the city, as principals feared for the learners’ health.
Firefighters worked throughout the night to contain the fire at the New England Road Landfill dumping site, which has been a source of concern from environmental activists over the years.
The Msunduzi Municipality Fire Department had to call on the assistance of local firefighting services in order to extinguish the fire.
With Thursday weather temperatures reaching a high of 29 degrees and 31 degrees on Friday, coupled with windy conditions, it made it difficult to extinguish the fire. Locals who work in town were stunned to see many parts of the city covered in smoke and had no idea what had caused it. However, by noon, much of the smoke had eased in the city centre.
In a statement issued on Friday, Msunduzi Municipality acting spokesperson, Siyabonga Hlongwa, said the process of completely dousing the fire on site would take at least three days.
“The cause of the fire is unknown. It is currently impossible to give estimates of the damage caused, but we can confirm that currently no lives have been lost,” said Hlongwa. He added that the municipality ensured that schools near the site were notified on Thursday amid fears that the fumes could be toxic.
“The municipality would like to apologise for the inconveniences and even possible damage caused by the fire in the New England Road Landfill site,” said Hlongwa.
Senior officials were locked in a meeting on Friday where the extent of the fire and plans to contain its effects were discussed. Over the years there have been concerns over the maintenance of the dumping site from environmental groups.