Explosions after fire at landfill site

VIDEO :: IN PICTURESFIREFIGHTERS were today called to a potentially major fire at the waste tip at Great Blakenham just outside Ipswich.Six appliances from the town were sent to the Viridor site shortly before 9am following reports of a blaze at the site.

AROUND 30 firefighters tackled a blaze at Great Blakenham waste tip today following a series of explosions.

A huge plume of smoke, up to six miles long, could be seen drifting across the sky after belching out from the Mason's landfill site following a lorry fire.

Six fire crews from Ipswich were sent to the Viridor-owned premises around 8.45am following reports of a blaze.

The fire began in the articulated lorry's trailer, before igniting the diesel fuel tank which exploded causing a number of loud bangs heard some distance away by residents.

A spokesman for Viridor said the HGV was carrying a consignment of tyres. The smoke was said to be non-toxic.

Other fire appliances were on standby in case the blaze turned out to be more serious than first thought.

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Nearby residents reported a huge plume of black smoke rising above the site.

Initially they feared the fire was near methane generators and said it was sending thick black smoke up hundreds of metres into the air.

Three months ago firefighters were called to a blaze at the recycling centre at the site, although today's blaze was in a different part of the site.

It was centred on the area where methane is extracted from the rotting material in the landfill site, only a few yards from the landfill site's boundary with the proposed SnOasis development.

Dave Atkinson, Assistant Divisional Officer for Suffolk and Fire and Rescue Service, said the cause of the fire was still being investigated.

He said: “We've got a severely damaged lorry. The main concern is stopping the fire completely. It was a very intense fire. It took six appliances to extinguish it.”

He said firefighters were due to remain at the site throughout the day to monitor the fire ground and ensure it the rubbish didn't flare again.

ADO Atkinson said: “We are hoping we've caught this one reasonably quickly and we've stopped it spreading. We got two appliances on to the landfill, which were fighting the fire at the fire ground.”

Another two appliances ferried water to the site to help ensure there was enough to douse the intense flames and heat.

ADO Atkinson said a diesel tank on the truck exploded during the fire and the burning diesel would then have set more of the rubbish around and underneath the lorry on fire.

“The diesel would have soaked into the ground and burned into the ground.”

The Environment Agency was on the scene to ensure any environmental effects were limited and run off of contaminated water was minimised.

ADO Atkinson added that the lorry had been carrying waste rubber, which would have burned quickly and contributed to the massive cloud of thick, black, choking smoke.

Mark Deer, from Suffolk County Council, said Viridor had the contract for the disposal of waste from five of the districts in Suffolk. They are Ipswich, Babergh, Mid Suffolk, St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath. The site is the main landfill site in Suffolk.

All dustcarts from those districts have been diverted to alternative facilities at Foxhall and the council said it expected there to be no disruption to household waste recycling activities.

The materials recycling facility which is adjacent to where the fire broke out was also shut while the fire fighting effort was carried out.

Great Blakenham parish council vice-chairman Peter Welham said people were very concerned about effect the smoke would have on the environment.

Mr Welham, who is also an anti-SnOasis campaigner, became aware of the fire shortly around 8.45am.

Speaking shortly after the blaze began, he said: “There are huge plumes of black smoke. It looks like Buncefield all over again. The smoke is hundreds of feet into the air.

“I have just spoken to a nearby farmer who said there were flames 20-30 feet in the air and it was incredibly hot.

“There is this huge plume of smoke. It's a big, big, plume of black smoke.

“Mason's have a very good safety record up there and, as a parish council, we have an excellent working relationship with them. They have very strict and adequate controls. This is a bolt from the blue.”

Steve Plume, who lives in Gipping Road opposite the site in Great Blakenham, heard explosions while he was on the school run.

Mr Plume said: “I had taken the children to Claydon High School about 8.45am and heard a couple of bangs, like you hear at Felixstowe docks when a container is dropped - a really loud thud and rumble.

“As soon as I turned towards Great Blakenham I saw a cloud of smoke. I came into the house to grab a camera and heard further explosions, possibly another three or four.

“I looked at the smoke drifting and thought that it was not drifting towards Great Blakenham. It seemed to be going south. It was very black smoke.

Mr Plume said he drove out to the other side of Great Blakenham where he saw a black cloud of smoke he estimated as five to six miles long stretching across the sky over Willisham, Barking and Nedging Tye.

Steve Wright, who runs a small holding called Inghams, about half a mile south-west of the site, saw the fire after hearing several explosions. He said: “I was sitting eating my breakfast when I heard an explosion. We are half a mile away from the top of the quarry where the fire was.

“There were several thuds. We couldn't see a vehicle through the flames all we could see was a black cloud. You couldn't see through the smoke at all. It was really burning very ferociously.

“All the thuds I heard would probably have been all the tyres on the truck exploding as they burned through. There were probably six or eight thuds. I've never seen anything like this.”

See later editions of tonight's Evening Star for dramatic five-page picture special.

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