Residents and businesses in the Chichester area are being thanked for their patience following a fire at a household waste recycling site.
A large fire involving more than 500 tonnes of household waste broke out at the recycling site and waste transfer station in Westhampnett on Tuesday evening last week.
The blaze was extinguished at lunchtime on Tuesday, this week, after fire crews using specialist equipment spent the last seven days trying to control the fire and minimise the impact of smoke produced.
Crews were unable to extinguish the flames initially due to concerns about safety in accessing the building and the potential effect on aquatic ecosystems of contaminated water running off to Westhampnett Lake and, from there, into nearby water courses.
Jon Lacey, West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service area manager for risk and improvements, said: “The fire was difficult to tackle as household waste is a mix of materials some of which, such as paper and plastic, are highly flammable.
“Some materials retain heat and cause the affected area to continue to burn even after water is applied.
“We were presented with a number of challenges, including the large amount of smoke within the building and the potential impact on the local environment.
“After consulting with a national fire service adviser on waste fires, we worked to ventilate the building to help reduce the amount of smoke in the building, and improve conditions to enable crews to gain entry.
“With the assistance of our colleagues at Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service, we then used specialist equipment to extract the burning waste and successfully extinguish in a controlled area.
“I would like to thank everyone involved in this complex operation, and thank you to local residents who have been so patient throughout this process.”
Local residents and businesses were advised to keep doors and windows closed as large amounts of smoke dispersing over the city and the surrounding areas.
Steve Read, director of environment and public protection at West Sussex County Council, said: “We are sorry for the disruption this fire has caused to local residents and businesses and I want to personally thank everyone who has been affected by this for their patience and understanding.
“I’d also like to thank colleagues from Viridor, Chichester District Council, The Environment Agency and Public Health England, all of whom gave advice and were closely consulted throughout.
“Fortunately, a fire such as this is a very rare occurrence. It was a very challenging situation and above all we are gratefully to the West Sussex and Hampshire fire and rescue services for expert advice and intervention.
“The site remains closed while we look at ways to restore a minimum service at as soon as possible. We hope to have some services back up and running in the near future and would ask people to avoid going to alternative sites if they possibly can.”
The cause of the fire has not been identified. Viridor, which operates the waste transfer station for West Sussex County Council, has said it suspects that a likely cause is lithium ion batteries. These batteries are the main cause of waste site fires and are commonly found in a variety of products, including mobile phones, toys, cameras, eCigarettes and laptop computers.
For more information on alternative sites to use, visit: westsussexrecycles.org/recycling-sites