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10 more days needed to put out Spanish tyre fire: officials
by Staff Writers
Madrid (AFP) May 16, 2016

Flare-ups, thick smoke from Canadian wildfires delay residents' return
Montreal (AFP) May 16, 2016 - Thick smoke and a risk of flare-ups are delaying residents' return to fire-ravaged Fort McMurray in Canada, the province of Alberta's premier said Monday.

"There's active fire growth on all fronts surrounding the community and a number of hotspots within the town," Premier Rachel Notley told a nationally televised press conference.

Elsewhere in the province new forest fires broke out over the weekend for a total of 15 separate blazes, three of which are out of control, Notley said.

The wildfires have burned more than 2,840 square kilometers (1,095 square miles) in the Fort McMurray area, including approximately 400 square kilometers in just the last three days, according to the latest report from fire officials.

"This remains an active fire zone, with significant air-quality concerns that may delay recovery work and a return to the community" Notley said.

"There are hotspots surrounding Fort McMurray. Any of them could flare up when the wind changes."

The massive blaze remains out of control as it moves eastward toward Saskatchewan province. Notley said it is now only 10 or 12 kilometers from the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

Two less threatening fires are blazing out of control about 180 kilometers northwest of Alberta's capital of Edmonton, prompting the evacuation of 200 people from the town of Whitecourt.

In Fort McMurray, work on getting water and gas back up and running and fixing damaged infrastructure continues. Electricity has been restored.

A plan for the eventual return of residents is expected to be unveiled in the coming days.

"Work has been progressing on all these fronts, in some cases faster than expected," Notley said.

It could take another 10 days to put out a huge fire at a tyre dump near Madrid, regional authorities said Monday, though residents have already been allowed to return to the area.

Some 10,000 people living in the town of Sesena near the Spanish capital evacuated their homes Friday after the dump went up in flames after a suspected arson attack.

Spanish authorities allowed the residents to return home Saturday, saying that the toxic fumes billowing from the rubber heap posed less of a risk.

The regional Castilla-La Mancha authorities in a statement estimated that "when the fire is completely extinguished (between a week and ten days) there will still be 30,000 tonnes of tyres able to be recycled and reused".

The blaze broke out before dawn last Friday in the dump that stretches over 10 hectares (25 acres) -- the equivalent of about 10 rugby fields -- and straddles the Castilla-La Mancha and Madrid regions.

A massive black cloud of fumes billowed into the air, prompting widespread health concerns. The Castilla-La Mancha government had warned that the smoke was "toxic."

The massive stack of tyres started to form in the 1990s when a company began using the site as a temporary depot for old tyres due to be recycled, and it grew from then on.

The dump was declared illegal and environmental groups had long warned that it posed a health hazard, but authorities only recently started acting on the problem, inviting bids to empty the site and destroy the tyres at the end of last year.

Francisco Martinez Arroyo, Castilla-La Mancha's top environment official issued reassurances at a press conference with his Madrid counterpart on Monday.

"The fire has been mastered and we are concentrating on the air quality," Arroyo said, stressing that the blaze was probably the result of arson.

The European Commission has requested information from the Spanish authorities on landfills and dumping sites.

In a bid to alleviate health concerns, Madrid's emergency services have tweeted that air quality measuring stations in the area continued to give normal readings.

But environmental group Ecologists in Action has warned that the stations were not set up to measure all the pollutants being released from the mass burning of tyres -- an atypical event.

These include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), compounds considered dangerous and in some cases cancer-causing.

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