17-story-tall 'mountain' of garbage spontaneously combusts during Indian heatwave

An enormous garbage fire rages in New Delhi on April 26, 2022.
An enormous garbage fire rages in New Delhi on April 26, 2022. (Image credit: Getty)

In the midst of a scorching heatwave, a landfill in New Delhi, India has spontaneously combusted, pouring toxic smoke into the air for three days straight, according to ABC News.

This is no ordinary landfill. Per ABC, the dump is more of a garbage mountain, looming taller than a 17-story building and wider than 50 football fields. (So, a pile of trash more than 240 feet, or 73 meters, high and more than 15,000 feet, or 4,572 m, long). Video taken from a nearby highway and shared on Reddit on Tuesday (April 26) shows a towering inferno billowing toxic smoke into the air, while hordes of motorists stop traffic to take in the spectacle.

The fire reportedly began due to the spontaneous combustion of methane (CH4) — a potent greenhouse gas released by decaying organic matter, in addition to occurring naturally underground. (See Turkmenistan's "gates of hell" for an idea of what happens when natural methane catches fire.)

Related: Has the Earth ever been this hot before?

delhi_bypass_fire_in_garbage_mountain from r/delhi

When methane reaches a certain concentration, it may spontaneously explode in the presence of heat, studies have shown. Sadly, that means landfill fires like this one are a common occurrence.

"There's a fire every year," Bhairo Raj, a waste worker who lives next to the landfill, told ABC. "It is not new. There is risk to life and livelihood, but what do we do?" 

Three other landfills around New Delhi have also caught fire in recent weeks, ABC reported. The landfill where the most recent fire ignited was planned for closure more than a decade ago, but more than 2,300 tons (2,086 metric tons) of garbage are added to the trash heap every day, according to ABC.

These methane explosions were almost certainly triggered by the intense heat plaguing India in recent weeks. Last month was the hottest March recorded in India in more than 100 years, Al Jazeera reported, and April has offered no reprieve. On Friday (April 29), temperatures rose above 114 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius) in multiple cities across the country, the India Meteorological Department reported.

Around the world, summer heatwaves have become both more common and more severe in recent years due to manmade climate change, Live Science previously reported. July 2021 was the hottest month in recorded history, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

Originally published on Live Science.

Brandon Specktor

Brandon is the space/physics editor at Live Science. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Reader's Digest, CBS.com, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and other outlets. He holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with minors in journalism and media arts. He enjoys writing most about space, geoscience and the mysteries of the universe.