Recycling Fire In Smethwick

Background

During recent years, West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) has been involved in the analysis of its incident data and other evidence, to monitor the numbers of fires occurring in the waste management and recycling industry.

More information on our risk analysis process and the evolving trend of fires in the waste management industry can be found on our website in our Community Safety Strategy (pages 76-80) at www.wmfs.net/content/community-safety-strategy

Across the West Midlands, but especially in the Black Country, we have experienced a growing trend in the numbers of serious fires in industrial sites that handle and process waste materials and those dealing with recycling goods, such as plastics, paper, pallets or cardboard.

We were quick to acknowledge that this type of site will generate more fires into the future and in particular, large fires that are not only hazardous for our firefighters to deal with, but also involve the production of harmful smoke and other emissions into the environment and result in pollution from the after-effects of our firefighting actions.

Such fires typically engage large numbers of firefighters and vehicles for prolonged periods of time and this has consequences for our ability to respond quickly and effectively to other fires and emergencies happening at the same time.

Even within the most recent months, we know that we have dealt with at least 15 serious fires in this industrial sector, with at least 9 of those involving the commitment of large numbers of firefighting personnel and equipment.

Dartmouth Road Fire  - Smethwick

This fire was first reported to us at just after 11-00 PM on Sunday 30th June, but rapidly spread to involve a massive area of baled plastic and paper, destined for recycling.

The site runs for approximately 300m along Dartmouth Road in Smethwick, directly opposite the WMFS Academy.

Within a short space of time, the first crews on the scene had requested additional help, with 35 fire engines being ultimately committed, with an additional 3 aerial platforms and 2 high volume pumping units (HVPUs) drawn from local and national resilience resources.

At 03:22 hours on Monday, the fire was declared to be a major incident, due to the scale of the fire and the draining impact that this is having on the firefighting resources of the West Midlands.

In addition to our own firefighters and fire engines, we have also had to draw on up to an additional 13 from our neighbouring brigades in Hereford and Worcester and Staffordshire.

There are still 10 of these fire engines in use from across our borders, and we expect the fire to continue burning on a significant scale for some days to come.

There has been a massive impact on the local communities- both residential and commercial. Many local firms have been unable to operate as normal today, both because of the fire and smoke in the area, but also because our fire engines and hose lines have brought about a number of essential road closures, including: 

  • Dartmouth Road
  • Halfords Lane and
  • Brasshouse Lane

We hope that most roads will be able to be re-opened to traffic as soon as possible, but there will be some on-going impacts necessary due to the need to maintain safety for our firefighters and the public.

The scale of the fire is generating vast volumes of smoke and we have been actively liaising with the responsible body, Public Health England, to monitor the fallout from this smoke plume and to give advice to the public about how to stay safe from its effects.

We have also been using Met Office information to predict the future weather conditions and the areas likely to be affected by the atmospheric pollution.

We are drawing huge volumes of water from the Birmingham Canal, several hundred metres away, to allow us to fight this fire in an aggressive and sustained attack, on all sides.

This has some impact on the canal network, but we have been talking to the experts in the Canals and Rivers Trust, to ensure that the canal network is still able to operate as necessary and we are taking advice from the Environment Agency on potential water pollution brought about by the firefighting actions involved. Initial sampling by them, has shown that there is no significant environmental impact on the canals in the area.

What is burning and how did the fire start?

We know that the fire was started by some kind of airborne object that introduced burning materials to the top of the stacks of plastic and we have been able to examine CCTV footage that suggests a sky lantern may well be the type of object involved.

This has led to the rapid fire development, which ultimately involves tens of thousands of tonnes of baled plastics and paper, destined for recycling.

Our position on the use of sky lanterns can be accessed here: