On Christmas Day, 25th December 2016, Tonga Fire and Emergency Services responded to a call for assistance from Waste Authority regarding a fire that had erupted at the landfill, reported to Fire Station 1, Nukua’lofa (S1) at approximately 0928 hours by the officer on duty.
The full scale fire, raging across the majority of the surface of the functioning landfill cells prompted the official opening of Operation Tapuhia and the establishment of an on-site TFES Command Post. Suppression and containment of the blaze continued until it was brought under control at approximately 0218 hours, 27 December 2016.
This turnout marked the beginning of Operation Tapuhia – an operation that lasted over the following 11 days, spearheaded by TFES and assisted by government and private sector entities, and the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Services (SAMFS).
TFES continued to monitor and attend to further fire threats and re-ignitions from the 28th December to the 31st December 2016. Despite challenges arising from limitations on water, human resources, supplies and equipment, TFES kept the landfill from a repeat of the previous three-day fire.
On New Year’s Eve, the 31st December 2016, Commander Robert Crockford of the SAMFS arrived in Tonga as part of the partnership agreement between TFES and SAMFS, offering assistance in the form of his fire-fighting experience and SAMFS equipment.
The 1st of January 2017 saw a fire-fighting team attending to 27 hotspots identified by a heat survey. Another heat survey on the 2nd January showed a remaining nine (9) active hotspots, all with reduced heat temperatures. By the 3rd January, the number of hotspots reduced to four (4) with further decreased temperatures. On the 4th January, a final three (3) hot spots remained with decreased temperatures. Full details of the operation shall be covered in this report’s later chapters.
Accordingly, with the essential assistance of the Tonga Police, His Majesty’s Armed Forces, the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO), Geology Department, Makisi Tonga of MAT Services, and SAMFS, TFES succeeded in closing Operation Tapuhia by the 4th January 2017.
On a national scale, the ignition of the Tapuhia Landfill is the largest and longest fire operation the Kingdom has experienced since the burning of Nuku’alofa town in the 2006 riots. Operation Tapuhia pushed TFES to its limits, stretching thin its restricted human resources and equipment to contain, suppress and control the landfill fire whilst also maintaining normal daily operational functionality in their three fire-stations across Tongatapu.
Tapuhia has been placed under Fire Watch until the 31st January 2017 by TFES as it continues to monitor the landfill for any potential re-ignitions of hot spots.