By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
It is business as usual at the Durham York Energy Centre, despite a small fire that briefly shut down operations earlier this month.
At about 1:40 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, the Clarington fire department was called to the incinerator after workers in the pit noticed some smoke.
“So they initiated a fire monitor and implemented the standard operating procedures, and what that means is the facility water cannons were initiated. In the pit, there’s big water cannons where if you see any smoke or there’s a fire, it’s designed so that these cannons can blast it with water,” Craig Bartlett, the region’s manager of waste operations, tells The Oshawa Express, adding that the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change was also called and all non-essential personnel were evacuated from the site.
That smoke turned into a fire when crews began to take a look at where it was coming from.
“They used the grapple to lift where the smoke is so they could get in there and actually extinguish it,” he says.
“So if you lift that waste, a little bit of oxygen is introduced into it, and it did ignite. It was a very small fire – about the size of a small SUV.”
Clarington firefighters deemed the fire was out by 6 p.m., and trash-burning operations were back up and running by 8:30 p.m. There was no damage to the pit, and Bartlett says there was no safety risk to the public.
“The walls are three-foot thick concrete, reinforced walls. They’re designed for this type of situation,” he says.
As for what cause the fire itself, Bartlett says that may never be known – due to the nature of the incinerator constantly burning through garbage, it isn’t like evidence could be saved.
“We may never know what caused that. It could have been a cigarette butt in there that just continued to smolder,” he says.
However, the waste operations manager did say residents need to be weary of what they put in their garbage bins, as it could be a fire risk both at the incinerator or at home.
“Waste fires are not uncommon. This was right after Thanksgiving. With the colder weather, people are using their fireplaces…people using charcoal or wood to barbecue these days, they really need to make sure those things are completely cooled down because we could’ve had a fire in someone’s garage if it didn’t go out and ignited earlier,” Bartlett says.
He adds that the investigation at this point will look at what trucks were delivering at the time of the blaze to help narrow down where the problem load came from.
“But again, because of the nature of the operation and how people throw stuff out, we may never know what caused it.”
Speaking at regional council, Susan Siopis, the region’s works commissioner, says that the fire will not delay the abatement plan or postpone stack testing scheduled for later this month.
The abatement plan was put in place earlier this year to bring the incinerator back into full compliance with the agreement between Covanta, the site’s operator, and Durham and York regions. This came after stack testing at the site found one of the boilers was emitting 818 picograms per cubic metre of dioxins and furans, well above the 60 mandated by the agreement between Covanta and the regions, and above the limit of 80 set by the province.