Flames are fed by a large pile of wood debris at the Greater Vernon landfill Monday. The fire started after a grinder malfunctioned.

Flames are fed by a large pile of wood debris at the Greater Vernon landfill Monday. The fire started after a grinder malfunctioned.

Crews battle raging landfill fire

Considerable resources converged on the Greater Vernon landfill after a grinder fire spread into adjacent wood debris

There were some tense moments as a wind-fed fire proved stubborn and unpredictable.

Considerable resources converged on the Greater Vernon landfill after a grinder fire spread into adjacent wood debris and grass at about 4:30 p.m. Monday. It grew rapidly and, ultimately, the Clerke Road area was put on evacuation alert.

“There’s a lot of concern this thing may spread,” said Jack Blair, Vernon deputy fire chief, as crews attempted to keep on top of the  sea of flames.

“It’s far from under control.”

But as the evening wore on, progress was made by firefighters from Coldstream, Vernon, BX-Swan Lake and the B.C. Forest Service.

Besides ground crews, helicopters and water bombers doused the scene from above.

Thick, black smoke could be seen from kilometres away and the fire became a huge draw as hundreds of residents lined Bailey Road, the road to the Kal Lake lookout and the Okanagan College parking lot to take in the action.

Coldstream and Lavington firefighters were stationed on Clerke Road in case the fire came over the ridge.

“We were concerned about embers and smoke,” said Shane Code, Coldstream fire chief.

“We pulled out all of the stops as a precaution.”

Residents of the neighbourhood were told they may have to leave on short notice.

By Tuesday afternoon, the fire was about 25 hectares in size and Vernon was being assisted by firefighters from BX-Swan Lake and Armstrong-Spallumcheen.

“We are trying to maintain control but there is a huge amount of wood there,” said Blair, adding that the main focus was keeping on top of hot spots.

“The north side is a concern because there’s lots of grass and trees. If the wind picks up, anything can happen.”

However, Blair was optimistic about conditions Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s looking pretty good,” he said.

With an active fire underway, the Regional District of North Okanagan decided to shut down the landfill to the public Tuesday.

Dale Danallanko, recycling operations manager, says the closure was necessary “to allow an unhindered response by firefighting personnel and to ensure the safety of customers.”

Residents needing to dispose of trash were diverted to the Armstrong-Spallumcheen landfill.

A decision on reopening the landfill today was made after deadline, but look for further details at www.vernonmorningstar.com