Burwood Resource Recovery Park fire update

Latest update:
● Smothering the fire from three sides currently by capping with 2 metres of soil.
● The favourable weather has helped and the smoke has significantly diminished overnight due to capping snuffing out smouldering areas.

Key messages:

•    Burwood Resource Recovery Park (BRRP) staff have the fire contained within a bunded area, and are managing the smothering of the fire.

•    All partner agencies (ECan, CCC, CERA, BRRP, Waste Management, Transwaste Canterbury, Ngai Tahu, CDHB) are working together to ensure any health and/or environmental effects are identified and minimised.

•    We are keeping all our neighbours informed of the progress in managing the fire and advice in relation to any health or environmental concerns.

•    The Canterbury District Health Board advises that the risk to public health from smoke inhalation in is extremely low.

•    BRRP is the lead organisation in managing the site and Christchurch City Council is the lead communications agency.

•    Three landfill experts from around the country are helping with the response.
•    There are staff on site 24/7 monitoring the fire. Contractors are working during daylight hours to smother and cap the fire, while two people remain on site during the night to continue monitoring it.

•    Regular updates can be found on the Christchurch City Council’s website homepage under the news section: www.ccc.govt.nz  and here: http://www.brrp.co.nz/ People can also find updates on both ECan and CCC Facebook pages.

•    Only five per cent of the timber stockpile material remains to burn.

•    Using water on this type of fire is relatively ineffective due to safety of firefighters and in ability to apply water directly onto the areas actively burning. We are managing this in the appropriate manner by allowing it to burn through the remaining timber fuel whilst safely contained, and then capping the fire area with soil.

•    Expert advice at this stage is the most effective way to deal with the fire is by covering it in several metres of soil to starve it of oxygen. BRRP are currently doing this.

•    Allowing the complete combustion of the timber material and then capping it with soil will ensure that there are no timber embers left to start further fires in the summer months or under dry nor'west conditions.

•    We are in constant communication with the health services to assess any risks that may arise from the management of the fire, e.g. smoke inhalation.

•    There is some airborne particle monitoring equipment on site which BRRP are using to analyse what is being discharged into the air to ensure we know what, if any, health and environmental risks there are.

•    The Burwood Resource Recovery Park is still operating as normal in terms of stockpiling demolition debris, however it is not processing any additional material.

•    The fire is being fuelled mostly by treated and untreated wood and is not dangerous from a public health point of view. However, smoke is a nuisance and people should avoid exposure where possible by staying indoors and closing windows and doors.
•    The fire may smoulder for several weeks, even months, but the deep soil capping will minimise any smoke in the meantime.

Secondary messages:
•    The smoke may irritate the eyes, nose, throat and airways. Symptoms can include runny or sore eyes, dry or sore throat, sore nose, cough, tightness of the chest or difficulty breathing, and tend to be worse in people with pre-existing health conditions.  If you experience any symptoms contact your general practice team.
•    Members of the public are advised not to go near the Burwood Resource Recovery Park, and stay off trails in Bottle Lake Forest in the immediate vicinity of the fire. If you see smoke please don’t go toward it to avoid any risk of smoke inhalation.
•    The Rural Fire Authority are comfortable that the fire is contained at this time and is not posing an immediate risk of spreading into adjacent forest and dune vegetation to the north and east of the fire. Regular patrols are being undertaken to inspect adjacent areas for sign of fire, while fuel (flammable materials) conditions are also being monitored.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1.    What started the fire?
The fire started on Thursday (August 6) afternoon in a pile of recycled timber recovered from the residential red zone. How it started cannot be known with any certainty, but it is most likely to have been spontaneous combustion within the 20 metre deep timber stockpile - which is a rare event in New Zealand’s landfills. There is no reason to suspect any deliberate ignition.
2.    What is burning? Is the fuel toxic?
The material is timber from Red Zone houses that has been recovered from earthquake waste, and which was being stored for future reuse. It is a mixture of predominantly untreated and some treated timber, and is not toxic. People shouldn’t go downwind of it though as we don’t want people getting smoke inhalation.

3.    Is there any asbestos in the material being burnt?
No. The material on fire is wood chips. BRRP has never accepted any asbestos containing material, and all incoming loads are checked to make sure no asbestos is received.

4.    Who is leading this?
Initially the Christchurch City Council Rural Fire Authority (RFA) was lead agency for the fire. Once the RFA was satisfied that the fire was contained and operations were more of a land management matter, control was handed over to BRRP. BRRP is now  the lead organisation managing the site and a site action plan is in place. BRRP’s primary contractor Waste Management, are managing the site operations directly. All other partner agencies (ECan, CCC, CERA, BRRP, Transwaste Canterbury, Ngai Tahu and CDHB) are comfortable with this and will continue to work with BRRP and others in the management of the fire and site.

5.    Can this happen again?
As almost all of the stockpiled timber has been burnt, it is unlikely that another fire from this source will occur. Other operations within the Burwood area, such as land filling and forestry, do have some small risk of fires, so conditions are closely monitored and plans are in place to deal with any such events.

6.    Are the BRRP staff equipped to fight fire?
They have their own fire appliance onsite that is supporting earthmoving work which is underway on site to cap the fire and adjacent areas. The BRRP staff and local contractors assisting them are well equipped to do this work.

7.    How many qualified fire fighters are attending to the fire now?
The Rural Fire Authority passed control of the site back to BRRP on Sunday, as the fire poses no immediate threat to adjacent forest and coastal vegetation, and the control process to manage the fire containment and extinguishment is an earthmoving process rather than traditional firefighting. Rural Fire Officers are still in regular contact with BRRP to monitor progress and provide advice where it is practical to do so.

8.    How much of the park has been damaged by the fire?
The area affected is a 400 metre by 100 metre area set aside for stockpiling recycled timber, and is not within the recreational area of the Bottle Lake Forest Park.

9.    Will the fire impact the future recreational plans for the park?
Not at this stage.

10.    Is the day to day running of the Resource Recovery Park affected?
The Park is operating as normal in terms of stockpiling, but is not processing currently.

11.    What happens to the burnt residual material that has remained?
It will be capped with a soil cover and the site will be rehabilitated as the consent conditions and agreements require. Once possible to access this area it will be capped over.

12.    Will BRRP continue to stockpile timber if this is the main fuel source for the fire?
This decision is yet to be made, BRRP will continue to work with ECan, CCC, CERA and CDHB on decisions about the site.

13.    Will this impact any future consent applications for the BRRP?
It may impact on the nature of the recovery operation, as recovering timber for reuse was a significant component of the recycling process. This again is a matter for discussion with BRRP and consenting councils. However, the earthquake waste remains high in other recoverable materials, such as metals and clean rubble.

14.    If the wind changes, how will this affect the immediate neighbours and surrounding residents?
While there is still combustion occurring, an easterly or northerly wind may cause smoke to drift inland. The volume of smoke is reducing daily as more material is consumed, and as more fire area is covered in soil.  If the wind changes to blow smoke in the direction of the immediate neighbours and surrounding residents then we’ll be in touch with them to advise them of this. If this happens, they’re advised to ensure all windows and doors are closed to keep the smoke out.

15.    How large is the fire area?
400 metres by 100 metres approximately, and the stockpile was up to 20 metres deep.

16.     What are you doing to minimise the airborne pollution from the fire?
The capping process is being very effective in reducing smoke. It is the only viable option for doing this at the current time. The cap will be monitored to assess its ongoing effectiveness.

17.    Who can I call if I have concerns about pollution?
If you see smoke or fire and are concerned then please call 111. If there’s smoke drifting into your neighbourhood then please call the Pollution Hotline on 0800 76 55 88. 

18.    Environment Canterbury are all about smoke-free burning. Will they be taking action against the Christchurch City Council and/or the Park?

At the moment the priority is dealing with the fire, any decision on an investigation will be made at a later date.

19.    What are you using to cap the fire?
We are covering it with 2 metres of soil, two metres of liquefaction silt, and then another metre of soil to allow eventual grass growth.