It’s hot enough in India to make one of Delhi’s biggest trash piles spontaneously combust. A fire began last Tuesday at the Bhalswa landfill, a massive site in northeast Delhi that lies along a canal that connects to the Yamuna River. The huge landfill, which takes mostly unsorted waste, is as tall as a 17-story building and takes up more than 50 acres, Quartz India reports. Dramatic videos posted to Twitter by passerby last week show an ominously glowing mountain of trash.
Fires at Landfills Throughout City
Fires at the landfill are not uncommon, but this fire began seemingly out of nowhere last Tuesday, and the cause is still unknown. Experts say that the extreme heatwave India has been suffering through in recent weeks, coupled with the massive amount of methane built up in the landfill waste disposal, were likely what caused this blaze to spark, the AP reports. Fires at two other landfill sites in the city also broke out last week, and firefighters battled another blaze at a separate landfill at the end of March, when temperatures in the city reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).
Intense Temperatures in India
Officials say this year saw the highest average maximum temperature recorded in India during March in more than 120 years, with a national average maximum of 91.58 degrees Fahrenheit (33.10 degrees Celsius), compared to the 1981 to 2010 average maximum of 88.23 degrees Fahrenheit (31.24 degrees Celsius).
‘Spontaneous Combustion Will Take Place’
“With high temperatures, this spontaneous combustion will take place,” Ravi Agarwal, the director of New Delhi-based advocacy group Toxics Link, told the AP.
More Intense Heatwaves for India’s Hot Season
India has seen an incredibly intense beginning to its heatwave season this year, which begins in March and stretches until June or July. Last week, some regions saw temperatures as high as 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius), while ground temperatures hit 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). The IPCC has found that extreme heatwaves are now much more common than they were a few decades ago, and severe heatwaves could become even more normal if we don’t curb warming. (Landfills like Bhalswa, by the way, are also a significant source of methane, an incredibly potent greenhouse gas that the world must begin cutting over the next decade to combat worst-case climate scenarios.)
Residents Experiencing Health Problems from Smoke
Thick toxic smoke from the fire spread across neighborhoods near the landfill last week, forcing a nearby school to close; some residents on Friday filed an official complaint about the fire with local authorities. People living near the blaze have told officials they are experiencing itchy eyes, sore throats, and breathing problems as a result of the smoke.
‘Remove the Whole Dump Yard From Here’
“The solution to combat these kinds of situations is to remove the whole dump yard from here,” an unidentified local man told Indian news service ANI. “People are not able to live here due to bad air and water. Several requests were made to remove [the] dump yard but nothing happened.”
More Than 2,000 Pounds of Trash Dumped Each Day
On Sunday, the city’s fire services bureau told the Times of India that while the fire was no longer burning out of control, smaller blazes and smoke were keeping fire crews busy. The AP reported that the landfill was supposed to be closed more than a decade ago, but more than 2,000 pounds of trash are still dumped in the landfill each day. In 2017, following heavy rains, the towering landfill collapsed into the nearby canal, killing two people.