Firefighters at the Pretoria east landfill on Thursday. Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/ANA

Tshwane - The City of Tshwane on Thursday assured residents living around the burning Garstkloof landfill site that the billows of smoke engulfing the eastern suburbs of Pretoria are not toxic.

Some residents in the area have complained on social media that the smoke and fumes from the burning landfill were causing children and the elderly to fall ill. One message said: "Pretoria east dumping ground on fire and causing people respiratory problems. Please can you send a fire truck ".

However, acting Tshwane Mayor Cilliers Brink told journalists at the scene that the burning landfill did not pose any health hazard.

"We want to assure residents that this is non-toxic smoke. We are dealing with garden refuse site compost heaps, but the City of Tshwane has made available the fire station at Erasmuskloof to assist with any health conditions," said Brink.

"We will also monitor the situation very carefully to see if any further action is needed to support the community. We do want to thank the members of this community, who have assisted us and who have been patient. We also want apologise to the members of this community for this situation, which should not have occurred."

Acting Tshwane Mayor Cilliers Brink addressing media at the Gartskloof landfill site which ignited, causing a dark cloud of smoke engulfing Pretoria east suburbs. Video: Jonisayi Maroma/ANA

Tshwane has dedicated around 100 emergency services personnel to concentrate on dousing the fire. The could be seen tearing apart huge mounds of the compost heaps, and drenching them with water. Contractors have also been roped in to assist.

On Sunday evening, one of the rows of shredded garden waste started emitting smoke, which suggested that there was fire burning underneath. 

The ignition of the waste is caused by a combination of the high temperature in the belly of a waste heap, together with the heatwave weather conditions experienced in South Africa's capital in the past weekend.

Due to the intense heat and strong wind, the fire spread throughout the entire landfill site of composts heaps causing a huge cloud of smoke that is now hanging over many parts of the city's eastern suburbs.

About three years ago, Tshwane stopped using the site for the purposes of dumping and burying general waste as it is the practice at landfill sites. This was when the city realised that the site was reaching its allowable height limit. 

The City then started to use the site to process shredded garden refuse towards making compost as allowed in the operating permit of a landfill site. 

This was part of City’s program to separate and re-use recyclable waste material as required by the national waste strategy.

Residents of the Pretoria east areas are advised to close windows and doors to limit smoke inhalation. 

Children and elderly persons, particularly with respiratory conditions, are urged to stay indoors. In addition, residents are further advised to consult their nearest health centres should they experience breathing difficulties.