Governor Albert Bryan Jr. has issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in response to the Bovoni Landfill fire on St. Thomas. The fire, burning since September 14th, has caused the closing of schools and businesses due to poor air quality.
The territory has called for immediate assistance in containing the fire. Puerto Rico’s National Guard is assisting with the efforts by providing a fire-fighting helicopter with the ability to carry 650 gallons of water.
Governor Bryan has designated Fire EMS Executive Director Daryl George as the incident commander to direct the territorial response and execute the directives for enforcement of the order.
Governor Bryan has also designated the Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services as the lead agency to coordinate emergency response activities in conjunction with the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA). The Incident Commander and Director of VITEMA will use their expertise to advise the Office of the Governor on the implementation of the emergency response activities.
Residents are encouraged to avoid the area to allow for these agencies to extinguish the fire without disruption and to avoid potentially toxic fumes.
“The VI Department of Health is further informing the surrounding community and the general public on St. Thomas that the burning of the Bovoni Landfill will produce toxic fumes from the smoke and can affect a wide area of the territory outside of the neighboring Landfill area. Fumes from the landfill comprise a mixture of gases. These gases are formed from the decomposition of rotting organic material that produces chemical reactions from the ongoing fire,” the department of health’s advisory stated. “The chemicals emitted in the atmosphere and disseminated by the winds include ammonia, methane, and hydrogen sulphide among others. Exposure by inhalation can lead to a variety of health consequences that are acute and chronic in nature. Acute symptoms include headaches, burning of the eyes, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, loss of consciousness, insomnia, and exacerbation of underlying heart or lung conditions such as congestive heart failure, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) or asthma.”
Schools in the area, including Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School and Antilles School will be closed until further notice.
News of St. John will update our readers as soon as we have more information.