Timber inferno - Tipton recycling plant goes up in flames

Hundreds of tons of timber have gone up in flames at a recycling plant in the Black Country – with residents urged to keep windows and doors closed today amid clouds of acrid smoke.

More than 2.5 million litres of water had been pumped onto the blaze by 9am today at Bloomfield Recycling in Tipton.

Three large bays of recycling material, including bales of MDF wood and chipboard, were alight when fire crews arrived at the site at around 3.45pm..

Specialist high volume pumping equipment and more than six fire engines were sent to the scene.

Water was pumped from the nearby canal for the three jets used to extinguish the flames.

Engineers from South Staffordshire Water were called to increase the water pressure.

Traffic on the road outside the plant was also affected, as firefighters ran hoses from one side to the other in order to access fire hydrants.

Fire crews first tackled the bays, which measured 30ft deep by 50ft wide, to stop the flames spreading further and were able to bring the blaze under control.

Diggers were then brought in to turn the material over so firefighters could hose it down and reduce the heat in the pile.

Neil Griffiths, Operational Commander for Black Country South said: “We concentrated on containing the fire to the bays that were affected to reduce the damage to the surrounding buildings.

“We brought in a high volume pump to transport water from the canal to the site to provide the water we need to tackle the fire.

“Once the fire has died down we will be using diggers and industrial machinery, already at the plant, to pull the material out and dampen it down.”

Two crews remained at the scene this morning as they continued to dampen down the material.

The cause of the fire is not yet know and an investigation has been launched by West Midlands Fire Service.

The fire at the plant is the latest to affect large waste plants in the West Midlands and as is the third time that the same site has gone up in flames in seven years -€“ with the last fire taking place in 2011.

Following that fire, investigators discovered that metal panels at the back of the bay where the wood was stored had been removed and they suspected that it was the work of arsonists.

Robert Lindop, the site manager said: "€œThis is the third time in seven years that this has happened here. Last time it took 24 hours to put it out and a further five days for us to start operating again."

Fire crews tackle the blaze in Tipton. Image: Cradley Fire Station/Twitter
Fire crews tackle the blaze in Tipton. Image: Cradley Fire Station/Twitter

It follows a similar fire at the Jayplas site on Dartmouth Road, which was the largest blaze ever tackled by the West Midlands Fire Service.

More than 200 firefighters tackled the fire at its height, and 10,000 tons of plastic were destroyed.

Neil Griffiths, Operational Commander for Black Country South, said: "€œThe West Midlands has had a number of similar fires recently and it is something that is being looked at nationally with colleagues from other fire services.

"€œWe hope to find a way of reducing the risk of these fires happening in the future."

West Midlands Fire Service said CCTV confirmed a Chinese lantern had floated onto bales of compacted recycled plastic and paper at Jayplas and took six minutes to ignite and spread. Flames leapt more than 100ft while smoke billowed more than 6,000ft into the sky.

The report was produced by Wolverhampton-based agricultural and environmental consultancy Adas, which was commissioned by Defra to assess the impact of sky lanterns, also called Chinese lanterns, and helium balloons on livestock and the environment.

Sandwell MPs Tom Watson and John Spellar have both called for Chinese lanterns to be banned and for a review of rules concerning how waste can be stored at recycling plants. Farmers have long been calling for Chinese lanterns to be banned amid concerns they pose a risk to animals.

More than 70 firefighters were sent to Premier Waste UK in Perry Barr last August in the early hours of the morning after a fire broke out in a warehouse unit containing materials for recycling. Around 500 tons of materials were alight.

Fifteen fire engines were at the scene at the height of the blaze and the busy Walsall Road was closed during the rush hour.

Flames also took hold at Lawrence Recycling in Kidderminster last June and Pelican Foods in Stourport in May.

It was the second blaze to hit Lawrence Recycling in less than six months which eventually led to the collapse of the family firm with the loss of 24 jobs.

A £250,000 taxpayer-funded operation was carried out to extinguish the most recent blaze in June.

The fires have been cited as key reasons behind the demise of the company, which had operated for 30 years. Wyre Forest District Council, Worcestershire County Council, Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue and the Environment Agency all made financial contributions to the operation. The district council is believed to have contributed £50,000 towards the scheme.

The most recent fire at the site burned for almost two months.

Around 500 tonnes of unburned waste had to be moved alongside the demolition of the two bays.