Smethwick fire - How Jayplas fought back after huge inferno

It was the biggest fire ever tackled by firefighters in the West Midlands and was sparked by a floating sky lantern.

Firefighters tackle the huge blaze
Firefighters tackle the huge blaze

Thousands of tons of plastic and paper went up in flames tackled by more than 200 firefighters at Jayplas Ltd in Smethwick.

Smoke could be seen 60 miles away, roads were closed, buses diverted and a school shut by the huge blaze, which broke out on June 30 2013.

See more pictures of the devastating blaze

The firm was closed for more six months following the devastating inferno which caused £6million of damage.

Now one year on it is back on its feet after bosses rebuilt the fire-ravaged recycling centre.

And West Midlands Fire Service says progress is also being made to help prevent similar blazes at recycling plants in the future.

As well as calling for a code of practice for the storage of waste and recycling materials, the fire brigade demanded a review of the sale and use of the lanterns.

CCTV footage showed a lantern descending onto the piles of plastic at Dartmouth Road site. Within eight minutes, the fire had taken hold.

After the fire superstore Poundland withdraw all airborne lanterns from sale, a move welcomed by fire and rescue services across the country.

It was also the third blaze at a recycling plant in the West Midlands in less than three months – the others being at Lawrence Recycling in Kidderminster and Pelican Foods in Stourport in June and May last year respectively.

Phil Hales, Deputy Chief Fire Officer of the West Midlands, said: “The fire demonstrated our responsiveness as a fire and rescue service and the importance of a rapid, professional intervention by firefighters operating assertively to protect property and control the blaze. After the emergency phase, we were determined to help local businesses and residents get back to normal as quickly as possible.

“It’s crucial that we all understand the impact of growing numbers of recycling plants and storage sites. We need the best fire prevention and control measures in place, and up-to-date guidance. We welcome national moves towards addressing fire safety issues associated with recycling and waste management.”

Aerial image showing large plumes of smoke
Aerial image showing large plumes of smoke

Councillor John Edwards, chairman of the West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority, added: “The fire at Smethwick was the biggest in the history of West Midlands Fire Service. Our excellent, whole-time crews responded quickly and in large numbers to control and contain the incident, and to prevent neighbouring businesses from being destroyed.

“Over the last four years our firefighter numbers and budget have been cut substantially, and more cuts are forecast. In the context of the Smethwick fire, that causes great concerns.”

The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) described the fire as a ‘tipping point’ for the issue of waste site fires, and quickly organised discussions with Government and industry partners.

It will soon launch a consultation on a sector-led code of practice, including recommendations on heights of, and distance between, stacks of recycling material, plus advice on contingency planning.

The association has also prepared a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) between the key regulators, to provide an agreed line of action for the permitting and enforcement of waste sites.

It has also set up a working group to study new technologies and fire-fighting techniques at waste fires.