Bosses speak out after Chinese lantern sparks region's biggest fire

Bosses of the Smethwick recycling plant destroyed in one of the biggest blazes ever seen in the West Midlands has declared: "This is a tragic accident over which we've had no control."

Billowing plumes of acrid black smoke could be seen 60 miles away as crews fought to control the blaze at the recycling plant in Smethwick containing 50,000 tons of plastic.

Roads have been closed, buses diverted and a school shut by the huge blaze, while 11 firefighters have been treated for heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation, eye injuries and a minor burn caused by the ferocity of the inferno. Ambulances have been on scene throughout the night and today, and took three of the injured firefighters to hospital.

The blaze has engulfed the Jayplas factory unit, in Dartmouth Road, sending flames shooting more than 6,000ft into the sky and causing plumes of acrid smoke that could be seen from as far away as Kettering in Northamptonshire.

On Monday night, Mike Maxwell, operations manager at Jayplas, said: "This is a tragic accident over which we've had no control. Jayplas would like to thank the emergency services for their speedy response and dealing with this incident in an extremely professional manner. I'd also like to thank our staff on site for raising the alarm as soon as they were aware of the fire, which allowed the fire brigade to act so quickly and reduce the severity of this incident."

West Midlands Fire Service said nearly 40 engines had been at the scene, including seven from Staffordshire Hereford & Worcester.

The fire service said CCTV showed the blaze had been sparked by a single Chinese lantern that landed on top of bales of plastic being stored at the site.

As the fire continued to rage, chief fire officer Vij Randeniya urged people not to use Chinese lanterns and said that the service had been campaigning for their use to be regulated. More than 400 emergency calls have been made about the blaze, and people have been urged only to call 999 if it is completely necessary as under-pressure crews continue their fight to contain the blaze.

The Environment Agency said it was "optimistic" that a neighbouring canal, which is a popular fishing spot, would not be badly affected.

Eyewitnesses described the devastation at the site as people from miles around took photographs and film footage of the chaotic scenes. Residents living near to the blaze and night-shift workers at nearby factories flocked outside to get a glimpse of the fire after it took hold just after midnight.

Eyewitness Ian Dangerfield, a documentary maker, said: “It was unbelievable. I could smell smoke and saw a huge cloud and I thought, ‘there’s no way that’s a big thunderstorm’.”

The 46-year-old, of Esher Road, West Bromwich, added: “I went out the front door and could see the smoke going across the sky so I grabbed my camera. Police were stopping cars. It was absolute chaos. I’ve never known anything like it in my life.”

Retired photographer Nick Greasby heard loud bangs from his home in nearby Great Arthur Street and rushed out of his home in his dressing gown to investigate. The 71-year-old said: “I saw the flames and I couldn’t believe it. They were strong and you could see smoke billowing over the trees and houses.”

Staff who arrived at Galton Valley Primary School in Brasshouse Lane, Smethwick, were evacuated as firefighters continued the mammoth challenge of keeping the flames under control. Pupils have been told to stay at home.

Firefighters from the whole of the West Midlands force are battling the blaze while crews have also been drafted in from across the border in Staffordshire.

Public Health England this afternoon urged motorists who must travel through the smoke to keep their windows closed and turn off air conditioning.

This afternoon, West Midlands Fire Service called for an urgent review of the legislation regarding the use of airborne lanterns.

It said there was evidence of them causing fires, wasting emergency services’ time, being mistaken for distress flares, misleading pilots and causing environmental damage.

They also pose a risk to livestock, agriculture, camping activities, recycling sites and hazardous material sites.

A spokesman for the service said: "We do not support the use of these devices, and ask that members of the public and event organisers stop using them.

"Internationally, certain brands of fire lanterns have been banned and there has been a temporary ban on all such products in Australia following a series of wildfires.

"We believe there is wide scope for limiting the potential effects, use and design of such lanterns, and for the exploration of legal action being taken by people adversely affected by them.

"We also question whether event licences should be issued for events from which it is planned to launch such lanterns."

For five pages of special reports and pictures, see tonight's Express & Star.

Live updates from the scene and pictures from Twitter:

Comments for: "Bosses speak out after Chinese lantern sparks region's biggest fire"

barbara humphreys

When will they ban Chinese Lanterns? They are dangerous to crops, trees, buildings and animals. When else are people allowed to send burning missiles into the air with no responsibility as to where they may land. It's disgraceful.

When else indeed, its called bonfire night.

Ivor

Lets get this right ? 100,000 tonnes of combustible material (fuel) left exposed to the elements in the open and its a Chinese lanterns fault ???

Who did a risk assessment?

what restrictions were placed on combustible material by Sandwell planners?

Had planners visited the site?

what emergency planning had taken place ?

Had the Fire authority conducted a work place assessment ?

These questions and more need to be answered before we go on a witch hunt for 30pence Chinese lanterns.

after all why do they keep petrol in tanks under ground ? perhaps its to keep them away from lanterns, sources of heat or sparks or other sources of ignition , you even have to turn off mobile phones in a petrol station.

Lakeside

Have to agree, it could just as easily have been a firework or a spark from a fire elsewhere that started this. The problem is that nobody carries out any proper due diligence if there is the chance of a few jobs being created.

Rory Bickle

The question of why they had built up such a vast pile of combustible material is relevant, though. Given the sheer volume, surely they should have built firebreaks between piles sufficient that any blaze would be containable?

50 million kilos of plastic is a lot, I can't imagine that it built up to that level in the last few days. And why is such a large volume of flammable material being stored in a populated area?

Talking about Chinese lanterns is a distraction from the real questions this raises about safety culture in our rush to recycle. It could be a firework, cigarette, or even sunlight lensing through some clear plastic near the top of the pile of bottles awaiting recycling that sparks the next one if lessons aren't learned from this.

Mel

What a ridiculous comment, should we cut down all the woods incase they set alight? It was a freak accident nothing more!

Maureen Cummin

Looks like a Canadair would be useful there.

Perhaps people will realize how dangerous Chinese lanterns really are now - and they are fatal to wildlife...

Compliments as always to the firefighters.

Me

The biggest threat to this country and the indigenous population is this government.

Penn MD

Isn't it about time we followed the rest of Europe and banned the sale of chinese lanterns.

TheRetroChief

Apologies if this has been mentioned elsewhere, but how exactly does anyone know it was a chinese lantern that caused the blaze? I very much doubt there was any evidence left behind?

BM

They have CCTV footage of it landing on the site then 8mins later on fire

John

Chinese Lanterns are not dangerous when used properly. I wouldn't be surprised if it was some yobs who did it: we had warm weather over the weekend, a prime catalyst for mayhem. Arson is rife throughout this region because this region because we have an element that is predisposed to destroying far more than it can ever create, and no, we shouldn't ban Chinese Lanterns on THEIR account, because then they've won and they'd simply move onto something else. I've used Lanterns properly and never had a problem, so have thousands of other people.

Prof

Chinese Lanterns may not be dangerous when used properly, but how often are they used properly ? If you put "ooooh, aren't they pretty !" out of your mind for a few moments, and think about what you are doing when you release one of these things, then it should seem like a rather stupid thing to do.

There is always the argument "well, lots of things we do for fun are dangerous, and banning Chinese lanterns is just health and safety taking over once more". I say that it's about the risk/reward ratio and the possible damage to property and life that an activity involves. There have been several serious incidents in the UK alone involving lanterns (before yesterday's fire), and if they are not banned, it's only a matter of time before they cause death(s). There are plenty of ways to safely celebrate, remember, or simply enjoy your pyromaniac tendancies, sending a bag of fire on a random mission should not be one of them.

For once, can we shut the gate before the horse(s) are long gone ?

John

On the contrary. I'm not obsessed with the prertyness of the them, as you infer. I also "think about what I'm doing" for lord's sake, hence the reason I release them responsibly.. What you're saying about potential dangers could also apply to flashy cars.. do we ban these 'killing machines'? Of course not, despite the statistics suggesting cars are a LOT more dangerous. Further, look at the number of incidents vs. the number sold, as then ask yourself if this is really about pandering to a minority.

Lisa

Some people in Finchfield obviously haven't seen the news or ignored it as someone released a Chinese lantern tonight just hours after this blaze!

Dennis Amor

I'm happy to say these silly lanterns are banned here in Australia. It's pretty obvious to me that sending a lighted candle in a flimsy paper lantern into the sky is a recipe for disaster ... as this blaze proved.

Dennis - ex E&S journalist, now retired.

Paris Baggie

How can anyone say with certainty that "they have used lanterns properly and never had a problem"? If I understand correctly, you light them then they disappear into the sky. For all you know they might have burnt down someone's shed 20 miles away.

graham

well at least this fire has got rid of all the thousands of rats and flies that took up residents in the plastics yard . ps well done to all fire fighters who attended this blaze and the staff of WMHH for saving thousands of pounds of vechicles and MY job

nic

if this is the damage, then yeah chinese laterns should be banned

Cindy

Should be banned as of now lives could be lost for the sake of a silly party trick

Bill

How come its illegal to store petrol at home but these can store 100,000 tones of stuff that's just as bad ?

Ne

There's more people carrying ceremonial daggers (swords) than there are people releasing Chinese lanterns.