A large used tire dump in the Raadi district of Tartu poses a serious threat to local residents and, were it to catch fire, would require the evacuation of around a third of the city's population, according to interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE).
In a letter sent to environment minister Rene Kokk (EKRE), Helme noted previous major tire conflagrations, one at the same site and one in Lithuania, to back up his claims.
A fire involving a significantly smaller amount of tires than dumped at present in Raadi took place at the same location around Jaanipäev, midsummer's day, 2013, Helme said, and took 10 hours to put out.
"Fortunately, the smoke did not spread toward the City of Tartu that time. According to calculations modeled for an exercise of the South Estonia crisis committee, one third of the residents of Tartu may need evacuation in the event of a fire in the Raadi tire depot," the minister said.
Jaaniöö, midsummer's night, is a popular time for making bonfires, including those which dispose of unwanted larger items.
In addition, the amount of pollutants generated by any combustion to occur would be well above the permitted limits, which, in addition to affecting the residents, also has a significant impact on the environment, Helme said.
A second example came from the southern Lithuanian town of Alytus, population 55,000, which required the evacuation of hospitals and the closures of schools and businesses, in what represented that country's greatest environmental disaster since regaining independence in the early 1990s, Helme said, according to BNS.
30,000 may need evacuating
Tartu's population is over 90,000 people, meaning over 30,000 would need evacuating should Helme's tire dump blaze predictions prove true.
Raadi is in the northern outskirts of Tartu, and is the location of the National Museum (ERM).
Helme added that while fire safety has been improved somewhat in recent years thanks to initiatives by the relevant agencies and the South Estonia regional crisis committee, the amount of spent tires has been reduced by only 1,600 tons, leaving over 13,000 tons of old tires at the Raadi dump.
"According to the latest information, it is planned to finance the disposal of a third of the old tires via the Environmental Investment Center (KIK) this year, after which approximately 7,400 tons of used tires will still need to be removed. To our knowledge, the Environmental Inspectorate (Keskkonnainspektsioon) has initiated administrative proceedings against NGO Rehviringlus, which is responsible for the disposal of the remaining tires. On the basis of the above, the Ministry of the Interior is of the opinion that the Raadi storage area for old tires must be eliminated as a matter of urgency," Helme wrote, according to BNS.
In December 2016, the first stage in reprocessing spent tires began at the site, which accounted for the small proportion of the total being removed as noted above.
Tire fires are events that involve the combustion of large quantities of tires, and can be either fast-burning events along the lines of what Helme highlighted, or slow burners that can last years or more. They are noted for being difficult to extinguish, and are highly pollutant, with thick smoke carrying toxic chemicals from the breakdown of synthetic rubber compounds. A recent case in the U.S. saw a fire in Phelps City, Missouri start in March 2017, which was still smoldering that August.
Editor: Andrew Whyte