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FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN

Delhi is a blazing hot, smoke-filled hellscape

Fire at Bhalswa landfill site in New Delhi
REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A preview of the climate apocalypse.
  • Manavi Kapur
By Manavi Kapur

Reporter

Published Last updated

Delhi is now offering a preview of what the climate apocalypse could look like.

Amid a scorching, once-in-a-century heat wave, a massive landfill in northern parts of the city has been on fire for the past four days. Fire engines have till now failed to put it out as toxic fumes engulf the area surrounding the Bhalswa landfill.

This has worsened Delhi’s air quality, already among the worst in the world. In most parts of the city, it is hovering between “poor” and “very poor.”

Bhalswa isn’t Delhi’s only garbage landfill—and certainly not the only one to have caught fire in recent times.

Why do landfills burn?

The Bhalswa landfill dates back to 1984. It is now spread across more than 50 acres and is over 60 metres high in some spots. This roughly translates to 50 football fields and a 17-storey building.

Landfills have been growing in size and number in and around Delhi for the past several decades. This is largely because waste segregation at source is still not a common practice in the state.

Piles of untreated garbage, coupled with rising temperatures, lead to excess emission of methane from such landfills, often resulting in blazes.

This is also the likely cause of the fire at Bhalswa. “Methane gas spontaneously ignites under such weather conditions. It is a natural phenomenon. Such a major fire at Bhalswa has not occurred lately and we will look into the exact cause once the situation is under control,” an unnamed civic official told the Hindustan Times newspaper.

Officially, though, the authorities haven’t yet ascertained if it was indeed methane, the heat, or a case of arson.

In the past two months, the city has witnessed at least three such fires. The Ghazipur landfill, among the city’s largest, caught fire on March 28, and it took the fire brigade three days to put it out.

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