Over recent years, Fire and Rescue Services across the country have attended an increasing number of fires at waste management sites.
These businesses process a diverse range of materials such as household waste and recycling, imported pulverised plastic car parts, baled recycled plastic, power station fuel (for export), waste oil, pulverised organic matter, and electrical equipment, e.g. computer screen monitors.
Such sites, by their very nature, carry a high risk of fire as they contain vast amounts of material, which is often compacted. These conditions can allow heat to build up naturally within the stack of waste and, in certain circumstances, this will spontaneously combust.
When faced with a blaze involving large amounts of waste, the fire and rescue service has to gauge whether active firefighting is a viable option. It can take many thousands of gallons of water to extinguish a fire that is deepset within a waste stack, and this water becomes contaminated through being used in this way. Very often, there is nowhere safe for the water to go.
In these cases, the fire is usually left to burn out under control. Areas of smouldering waste are turned over on a daily basis to encourage the fire to burn out more quickly, and this can be done by on-site personnel using diggers or similar machinery.
Firefighters will remain at the scene until it is safe to hand over responsibility for the site to the owner or manager. However, daily visits are usually carried out by officers to check that everything is going to plan.
Where the fire generates a significant amount of smoke, we liaise with partner agencies such as the local authority’s public health department, NHS England and Public Health England to ensure that the right safety advice is being provided to local residents.
Reducing fire risk at sites storing combustible materials
In response to recent high profile fires involving the waste industry, the Environment Agency has issued guidance for waste and recycling site operators.
This document clarifies the measures that waste sites must take to minimise the risk of fires and pollution. It also addresses fire prevention as the key solution for operators of waste sites, by keeping sources of ignition at least six metres away from stacks of combustible material, and introducing a regular maintenance and inspection programme.