PICS, VIDEO: Smouldering Panorama compost heap could be put out by Saturday

Firefighters continue to put out the smouldering Panorama compost site fire. It has been burning since 29 September. Picture: Twitter/@CleanerJoburg

This is no ordinary fire. Due to it being inside the compost, hosing it down would be the equivalent of throwing water on petrol that has caught fire. The compost also produces methane gas, making it lethal and combustible.

A fire at the Panorama compost site in Roodepoort that has been smouldering for close to four weeks could finally be extinguished by Saturday afternoon. 

This is according to officials and volunteers at the scene, including Pikitup, firefighters and Roodepoort-based construction company Renico. 

Roodepoort Northsider reported last month that the fire started after an electrical transformer caught fire and exploded. 

The electrical transformer that exploded. Photo: Roodepoort Northsider

At the time the site was only expected to smoulder for 10 days. 

Residents continued to express health concerns as the thick smoke entered their homes and businesses.

Thick smoke plagued residents, who reported sore throats and feeling unwell. Photo: Jarryd Westerdale/Roodepoort Northsider

The City of Johannesburg’s communications deputy director of the committee for environment, infrastructure and services, Stan Itshegetseng, warned that although projections were for the fire to be completely extinguished by Saturday afternoon, weather conditions could dramatically change this. 

“The elements always make it difficult to be able to resolve,” Itshegetseng told The Citizen on Friday. 

He explained that the delay in extinguishing the smouldering compost heap was because it was not a normal fire. 

“It is smouldering because the fire itself is inside the compost, which emits volatile methane gas and is combustible. So we can’t sort out the fire in the normal kind of way by spraying water.

“It’s like petrol when it catches fire, the water evaporates because of the heat.” 

Photo: Twitter/@CleanerJoburg

For this type of fire, Itshegetseng said that firstly the location of the fire must be identified, then they needed to isolate the area on fire from the area not yet burning. 

Digging through the compost then takes place, but Itshegetseng said as firefighters dig, flames come to the surface. The smouldering parts are then watered down.

“We are learning as we go.”

He said when emergency services first arrived at the scene and secured the area to protect neighbouring households, they advised officials to let the fire die out by itself. However, Pikitup brought in reinforcements in the form of an excavator and water trucks. 

“If you leave the fire to die naturally, the fumes and smoke become a nuisance and citizens start complaining.”

The intervention was then picked up and sponsored by national government, he continued. 

Emergency services returned and opted to take immediate action. Itshegetseng said they used larger hoses and realised the fire was being extinguished much faster. 

“But if there is a big wind, it will mess up our timelines, much to our irritation. This fire was something else.”

Residents were so upset that Itshegetseng said they signed a 3 500 signature petition. 

“To people it looked like nothing was being done, but we have been very busy.”

He added that compost had already begun to be moved to another landfill site that had been decommissioned. 

He also said Panorama was not a Pikitup site, but belongs to City of Johannesburg’s property division. 

He expressed concern that the area had been used as a “dumping site” and has also played host to waste pickers who are slowly “invading” nearby land on the property. 

However, he assured that sister departments within the City of Joburg would  be engaged “to mitigate it becoming a dumping site for people”.

“Not very far away there is a Pikitup garden site where people can dump their rubbish on regulated property for free. Ignorance is not an excuse for city residents.” 

Weather conditions make quelling unique fires such as this one difficult. Photo: Twitter/@CleanerJoburg

He lauded the work done by waste pickers, but said their presence was fast becoming “an aesthetic disadvantage” for residents and business owners, which could cause investors to avoid the area. 

Itshegetseng said meetings would be held to discuss how to take care of waste pickers, “without creating an expectation in society that everybody who is homeless can occupy a corner and we’ll take care of them”.

“The city only has so many resources. Then it becomes a shack and an informal settlement in an affluent area, so we upset investors. We must work nicely with society.”  

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