Blaze at former Alex Smiles waste plant in Sunderland is now finally out - more than THREE WEEKS after it began

A fire which broke out at Sunderland's abandoned Alex Smiles waste site more than three weeks ago is now finally out.

Firefighters and other agencies, including the council, have been tackling the blaze at the Deptford plant since it broke out on Monday, May 14.

Firefighters dealing with the blaze at Alex Smiles in Sunderland. Picture by Glynis Ayers.

Firefighters dealing with the blaze at Alex Smiles in Sunderland. Picture by Glynis Ayers.

When it first started, there were fears that it could continue burning for months, as has previously happened with blazes at other waste sites around the country.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) said its crews had intially worked to contain the fire before spending the last two weeks removing 7,000 tonnes of waste from the site and dampening down any remaining hot or smouldering material.

Now the brigade has confirmed the fire has now been extinguished.

Alan Robson, Assistant Chief Fire Officer for Community Safety at TWFRS, said: "This has been a significant incident to deal with and I would like to praise our fire crews for bringing the incident to a successful conclusion. I would also like to thank the public for their patience whilst we resolved this incident.

Cooling down operations inside the old Alex Smiles plant in Deptford after the fire.

Cooling down operations inside the old Alex Smiles plant in Deptford after the fire.

"Incidents such as this present particular challenges to the fire and rescue service and partners alike and are often protracted incidents. These incidents are best resolved through an effective multi agency response. We have worked closely with Northumbria Police, Sunderland City Council, Environment Agency, Northumbria Water and colleagues from NHS England at Deptford.

"Although the firefighting action is now completed, the investigation in to the cause of the fire will continue over the coming weeks."

The Environment Agency and Sunderland City Council have been monitoring air quality and water quality in the River Wear since the fire started to minimise the impact on local neighbourhoods and the environment.

Council chiefs had previously said that it would have cost millions of pounds to remove the thousands of tonnes of waste left on the site after the business failed and went into administration in 2015. They remain keen to bring the site back into use in the long term but admit that would require major investment to clear the site first.

From left Chif Operator Officer Sunderland Council Les Clark, Public Health England Kelely Stoker, Enviroment Agency Oliver Harmer and Assistant Chief Officer Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Alan Robson on the site of the old Alex Smiles plant in Deptford

From left Chif Operator Officer Sunderland Council Les Clark, Public Health England Kelely Stoker, Enviroment Agency Oliver Harmer and Assistant Chief Officer Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Alan Robson on the site of the old Alex Smiles plant in Deptford

Les Clark, Chief Operations Officer at the council, said: "This has been about protecting public health first and foremost. That's why we've worked with partners to limit the risk to people living and working nearby.

"The partner agencies involved in the response have made tremendous progress in tackling the blaze since firefighting moved from containing the fire to a more aggressive approach 15 days ago.

"The fire service are now satisfied that the fire is out so the intention is for partners to secure the site and withdraw from it, pending a long term solution for the land.

"This is a privately owned waste site which was abandoned when the business which previously ran it went into administration in 2015. So now that the immediate emergency is over the sole responsibility for the site passes back to the owners' pension fund.

"Prior to the fire, Sunderland City Council and the Environment Agency had been working hard on a creative solution to the problem left behind by the site's owners when their business failed, leaving thousands of tonnes of waste, costing millions of pounds to remove.

"In the long term we are keen to bring the site back into use but this is something that will require millions of pounds of investment to clear the site.

"So we need to be realistic about the timescales involved and we also need to assess the impact of the fire on those plans."

Jamie Fletcher, Area Environment Manager for the Environment Agency, said its water quality tests have shown "no significant impacts" on the River Wear.

He added: "We are assessing whether there are any grounds for enforcement action to be taken for waste offences and we will continue to work with Sunderland City Council to support future solutions for the site."

Public Health England have been providing advice to help people living andworking in the area to minimise any exposure to smoke from the fire since it first started.