Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Fort McMurray's Genial Landfill Manager Surfs Tsunami of Wildfire Waste

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Fort McMurray's Genial Landfill Manager Surfs Tsunami of Wildfire Waste

Article excerpt

Landfill takes in tsunami of fire debris


FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. - When you're pounded with the big waves, you'd better learn to surf.

"The demolition material is going to come in pretty much in a tsunami-like effect," says Fred Thompson-Brown, manager of Fort McMurray's landfill. "We've been busy throughout and it's just getting busier."

The wildfire that ravaged the oilsands city is finally under control and many of its more than 80,000 evacuees are back in their homes. Services are restored and residents are working to bring life back to normal.

But normal is a long way off for the man at the centre of a mind-bogglingly large and occasionally toxic clean-up still very much under way.

Put this in your garbage truck and haul it: A typical urban home generates between 97 and 175 tonnes of waste after a fire. Fort McMurray lost 2,400 homes and buildings.

Give or take, that's 338,400 tonnes of ash, soil, concrete, metal and miscellaneous bits and bobs -- some of it as caustic as oven cleaner or loaded with toxic lead or arsenic. That's fully a third more waste than the landfill accepted in all of 2015. It'll take up to 47,000 truckloads to haul it.

If that isn't daunting enough, consider that in June, the landfill took in 11,437 fridges and freezers. All had to be emptied of rotting food, drained of their gas and crushed.

"It's not a simple commodity," deadpans Thompson-Brown, a genial Brit whose ringtone plays "The British Grenadiers."

"And they're still coming in. It's 10-years worth in six weeks."

He's earned the right to be calm. Throughout the entire blaze, the landfill was closed for exactly four days, from May 6 to May 10. By the time residents began to filter back on June 1, a lot of rubble had already been cleared and homeowners had big, empty bins waiting to haul away waste and let them rebuild.

"There was a bit of a mini-tsunami of that material," says Thompson-Brown, using a word he repeats a lot.

"All of the bins had been left for all the commercial properties that had to be cleared. …

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