As Hay River’s landfill fire stretches into a second week, the territory’s chief public health officer issued a precautionary health advisory stating the fire could cause poor air quality.

Winds were pushing smoke north toward Hay River and Kátł’odeeche First Nation as of 1:30pm on Monday.

Children, pregnant women, seniors, and people with pre-existing health conditions like asthma, diabetes, lung, or heart conditions are encouraged to reduce their risk by avoiding vigorous outdoor activities.

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“Anyone experiencing a worsening of symptoms such as wheezing, chest discomfort, or shortness of breath should seek an assessment at the health centre without delay,” read the chief public health officer’s precautionary health advisory.

Subsurface fires ‘up to nine metres deep’

Glenn Smith, the town’s assistant senior administrative officer, stated the fire is currently under control.

Smith said Hay River’s emergency management committee met on Monday morning to discuss risks and resources.

“We are still battling a deep subsurface fire and surface fires as well now in the area,” he said, adding the subsurface fires are seven to nine metres deep in places.

The fire, which was first brought to the Town’s attention for response on March 3, became “a little less controlled” on Saturday, said Smith, coinciding with the start of a few surface fires.

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He said the Town was concerned the fire was approaching a section of the landfill where tires are deposited, but firefighters have made gains in that area and have been able to prevent a tire fire.

Smoke rises from a landfill fire in Hay River on March 10, 2019
Smoke rises from a landfill fire in Hay River on March 10, 2019. Photo courtesty of Marilyn Marshall Photography

Smith explained the fire is located on top of one of the dump’s hills, burning through waste containing metal, wood, and a few propane tanks.

Four additional firefighters from Fort Smith arrived on Monday morning to assist approximately 15 of Hay River’s volunteer firefighters who are taking shifts fighting the fire around the clock.

Some employers have granted leave to their employees who are volunteer firefighters so they can assist in the firefighting efforts.

Hay River is also consulting with Yellowknife and other authorities that have more experience with landfill fires to assist with its strategy.

As the fire is so deep, fire crews have to excavate the waste and treat it to ensure it is fully extinguished.

Smith added crews are using thermal imaging to determine the true size of the fire.

While the cause is currently unknown, authorities suspect it was likely burning underground for some time.

Winds direction expected to change

On Tuesday, it is expected the wind will change direction, pushing smoke southeast and away from the town.

Highway 5 leading to Fort Smith and Fort Resolution is on the south side of the landfill.

Smith said there hasn’t been any indication the highway will close, and added the Department of Infrastructure has put up signage advising travellers of the fire and smoke risk, as well as signage reducing the speed limit while the fire is ongoing.

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