Journalist, Cherry Park

Author Bio ▼

Cherry Park is an experienced freelance journalist and reporter who specializes in features, news, and news analysis, in print and online. She has written extensively in the areas of health and safety, fire safety, employment, HR, recruitment, rewards, pay and benefits, market research, environment, and metallurgy, and she also conducts research.
May 28, 2014

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Raging for Days on End, Recycling-Plant Fires Are a Growing Menace

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When: 17-19 June 2014
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Scarcely a week goes by without news of yet another blaze raging at a recycling or waste plant.

Costing the Fire Service and taxpayer a fortune and disrupting the lives of nearby residents, recycling plant fires are often extremely unpredictable and difficult to contain owing to the flammability of materials like timber and paper.

Locals often have to close windows and doors and remain in their homes for the duration of the fires, which typically burn for several days. Infernos and plumes of smoke can also threaten infrastructure such as buildings, roads and railways in high winds.

It took five days for more than 20 firefighters to extinguish a fire at a Scunthorpe recycling plant three weeks ago, for instance.
Fire on old factory
Humberside Fire and Rescue Service was called to the blaze on Winterton Road in Scunthorpe on 6 May. The fire had produced heavy smoke across the area and residents had been advised to keep their doors and windows closed.

16 days

But even that was eclipsed by a fire at Teesside wood recycling plant in December last year.

Raging for 16 days the fire cost the Cleveland Fire Brigade an estimated £235,000 and was caused by 16,000 tonnes of waste wood.

Numerous residents complained about clouds of thick black smoke, which caused the closure of the A1085 and posed risks to public health.

Arson is being blamed for a huge blaze in Cardiff caused by 10,000 tonnes of plastic and timber waste material.

It took 70 firefighters and 20 fire appliances several days to get the blaze, which encompassed a five-acre area and ignited surrounding buildings, heavy plant and machinery and 30-40 gas cylinders, under control.

Smoke from another waste recycling centre – this time in Devizes, Wiltshire in January – was visible for miles and was so detrimental to visibility it caused drivers on a nearby road to slow down.

Since December 2011, London Fire Brigade has sent more than 550 fire engines to 11 separate fires at just one plant: the Waste 4 Fuel recycling site in Orpington, Kent.

Ten of the fires occurred in just nine months. According to the Brigade, this represents over 1,958 working hours and more than £560,000 in time and firefighting resources.

In March this year another waste wood fire, thought to be arson, occurred in Tipton, West Midlands.

The third such incident at Bloomfield Recycling Plant in seven years, the blaze needed six fire engines and more than 2.5 million litres of water before dampening down.

Sprinklers

Sprinklers arguably have a bigger role to play. On 18 March sprinklers confined a fire at a new multi-million pound waste recycling plant in Westbury to a small area and firefighters quickly brought it under control.

The Environment Agency also has powers it can use. It recently suspended Nottinghamshire Recycling waste centre’s environmental permit after four serious fires at the plant in six months.

In February, Waste4Fuel was ordered to pay almost £9,000 in fines for illegally storing a large quantity of inflammable material after yet another fire at a Bromley site – the 15th such fire in a year.

Arcwood Recycling, meanwhile, was fined £50,000 and its director jailed for 10 months for breaching fire safety regulations and polluting a Derbyshire canal after thousands of fish died in the wake of a blaze at the plant.

The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) is also doing its bit by working with the waste industry, enforcement agencies and insurers towards reducing fires at waste and recycling plants.

 

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