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Underground fires are notoriously difficult to deal with, presenting a huge risk to people, businesses and the environment. In some instances they can burn on and on for years, leading to the abandonment of land and buildings.
When an underground fire was detected at a landfill site at Kerdiffstown, 20 miles southwest of Dublin in early January 2011, the blaze was fought night and day by fire crews for weeks.
In parts of the site, burning was detected as deep as 30m underground, and temperatures between 500-600°C were recorded.
Concern was growing that the fire would spread to the main area of the site where piles of tyres, plastics and other highly inflammable, potentially toxic materials posed the risk of causing a major environmental incident if they ignited.
All conventional approaches having failed to extinguish the fire, the Chief Fire Officer from Kildare Fire Brigade contacted BOC Dublin to ask if they could help.
The BOC solution
With a situation as serious as this, speed of response was clearly the order of the day. BOC quickly arranged a site visit and confirmed to the key stakeholders - the Kildare Fire Brigade, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Kildare County Council and consultants SKM Enviros - that they would take on the challenge.
Once given the green light to proceed, cryogenic and other specialists from BOC in Dublin and the UK, as well as from parent company The Linde Group in the Netherlands, began preparations for ‘nitrogen purging’. This is a special technique which pumps large quantities of cold, gaseous N2 into the heart of a fire to put it out.
In just two-and-a-half days, a half-kilometre long purging system had been designed, built and installed on site, safety and operational trials had been carried out, and the first of the 143 tonnes of cold N2 that would ultimately kill the ferocious fire were injected.
The purging system was made up of 70 copper lances, each 5m long, linked together by copper tubing to form a network that covered an area of approximately 2/3 of an acre. The EPA had issued a order of ‘National Importance’ under which special clearance was given to speed up the shipment of critical components for the system from the UK and the Netherlands.
Tankers of N2 were on 24-hour shuttle from BOC Dublin, and teams were on site night and day. In just over a week from first receiving the request from the fire authority for assistance, the quenching system extinguished the fire and the danger of a major environmental incident was averted.
"Within hours of the Linde N2 services vehicle arriving on site, we were able to demonstrate to the fire services and the Irish Environmental Protection Agency that we had a solution to their problem."
- An effective response, employing an innovative solution after conventional approaches had failed
- Collaborative working between emergency services, regulatory authorities and BOC
- Avoidance of major environmental damage