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Tell Us About Any Experiences You Have With Landfill Fires

This is an unusual post for the Wasterblog, and results from a request we have received from a Post Graduate Student at Southampton University.

With over 500 subscribers to this blog we reasoned that some of you my have experience of landfill fires which you may be able and willing to send us.

The research is non-profit making, and your information on landfill fires just might make a difference someday, especially if it put you in danger and the message you send us about it may help others not to make the same mistake!

He’s doing an MSc (Sustainable Waste Management) at the School of Civil Engineering and the Environment at Southampton University.

This is the enquiry he has made:

“My dissertation is on the subject of the “Detection and Treatment of Landfill Fires”

The aim of my paper is to review current ‘good practice’ for avoiding and extinguishing landfill fires by talking to experts around the world and gathering together the best information as a guide for European landfill operators, local authorities and Fire and Rescue Services in the UK. I want to provide a balanced view of ‘what works’ and ‘ what doesn’t work’ for MSW, C&D. Industrial and tyre wastes. The Fire College have said that they would be interested in parts of the dissertation if these can be translated into Guidance Notes.

This is my Wish List of research information:

* Documented / anecdotal reports of landfill fires:
* How were they started – deliberate (in the Third World), arson, spontaneous combustion, lightning, etc
* How were they treated – successes and failures.
* Fugitive emissions information – water and air.
* Geotechnical information – formation of ‘sink holes’, collapse, effect on containment system
* Any academic papers on the subject
* Introduction to anyone who has suffered a fire.

Any help will be most gratefully received and fully acknowledged and I will be very happy to let you have a copy of my dissertation, once it is accepted.”

Can you help? Use the comments form below or email any private communications to

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3 Responses to Tell Us About Any Experiences You Have With Landfill Fires

  1. grahamecooper 23 September 2009 at 8:09 am #

    I have had only 1 experience of a landfill fire at Newton Longeville near Bletchley, which at the time (mid70’s) was part of London Brick. Cause I cannot recall, but we realised (at that time) that the only way to put it out was to cut a trench across the landfill to cut the fire off from the main body of fill and to open up the fired area to the seat of the fire so we could absolutely deluge it with water. We then had fire watch duties for a week, all around the clock.

    Subsequently, as Engineer for the Company, I embarked upon the trials of helicopter borne infrared scanning equipment and one of my staff (Richard Tipping) did the trials at Calvert and Newton Longeville, before sun-up (dangerous with overhead cables) from which we could detect any nascent fires or landfill gas escapes by their thermal image. This was all done back in the 70’s so what do people do now? I know one coleague (Patrick Foss Smith) who I believe put a fire out by injecting liquid nitrogen.

    Oh I had forgotten, when I built hendon Rail transfer Station, the old siding containing coal dust were alight and 1000degF about 1ft down. Had to be ringed with injection points and pressure grouted to put it out, but then it had been burning for about 50yrs! When we can to excavate it was a picture of almost terra cota.

  2. waster 23 September 2009 at 8:41 pm #


    Thanks for kicking this off! I think that your comments should give some good pointers to our student researcher.

    I hope there will be others willing and able to spend some time to write us some more comments to provide similar information from their own experience.

    I have within the last 18 months heard tales of landfills which have been prone to deep seated hot spots, if not fires, where the landfill gas extraction system has been drawing air in through poorly maintained monitoring well heads, or dare I say it – the monitoring well covers have been left off.

    Also, as you say if water is used to extinguish such fires an unreasonably large quantity is needed.

  3. waster 30 September 2009 at 2:21 pm #

    Here is what the UK Department of the Environment said about landfill fires in Waste Management Paper 26:

    “6.94 A fire hazard can exist by virtue of the presence of uncompacted combustible waste materials, the voids in which can provide sufficient air to support combustion underground.

    Since the supply of air is likely to be small, the rate of combustion inevitably will be slow. Sources of ignition can include the deposit of burning waste materials, the deposit of pyrophoric materials eg finely divided metal turnings, fires lit on the surface of a site, or self-heating and ignition.

    Oxidising agents which may be present in some wastes could provide sufficient oxygen to initiate spontaneous combustion.

    It is important that any boreholes provided in landfilled waste are properly grouted up and the grouting checked periodically particularly if settlement occurs.”

    This picks up on my point earlier about the need for care in ensuring the monitoring and extraction wells are kept well sealed to avoid air being sucked into the landfill and causing fires.

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