Firefighters could be at site of Alex Smiles fire 'for weeks'

Firefighters could be at the scene of Monday night's massive blaze at the former Alex Smiles recycling depot for weeks.

Friday, 18th May 2018, 4:50 pm
Updated Friday, 18th May 2018, 7:46 pm
Hose jets are being used to damp the building down

Up to 50 firefighters from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service were involved at the height of the blaze and damping down is still going on.

Assistant chief fire officer Alan Robson said today tackling the fire had been 'a very large and significant operation.'

Hose jets are being used to damp the building down

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

"It has been quite a significant operation for us," he said.

"We have successfully contained the fire within the building but what we have is still quite a considerable pile of refuse, about 30,00 tons we estimate, that still has some very deep set elements within it that are on fire.

"That pile is about four metres high, which is about the same as a two-storey house, and is about 100 metres long, so it is still quite a significant challenge.

"It is also contained within a steel-framed building, which has not been without its problems."

Measures are in place to limit the flow of water from the site into the Wear

Work was under way to clear refuse from the side of the building so crews could get inside safely: "The safety and protection of firefighters is the priority," said Mr Robson.

"The aim is to create some space so we can get inside and start to clear the refuse out, turn it over and dampen it down.

"We are likely to be here for some time. At the moment, we are looking at a considerable number of days and that may run into weeks."

One-in-five of the brigade's firefighters had been involved in the operation, he said: "We have committed about 20 per cent of our resources in total over the period of the incident," said Mr Robson.

The fire is contained within a massive steel-framed building

"We have had 54 firefighters involved. We are rotating crews so they get enough rest. "

The brigade had benefited from the experiences of other crews nationwide in tackling the fire: "Although this is one of the largest I have seen, we have had some quite significant refuse fires in other part of the country - we adopt and adapt their procedures."

The site's position next to the Wear meant there was no shortage of water available, but presented its own problems in the risk of pollution from water run-off.

The Environment Agency has been on site all week, monitoring the smoke from the fire and water quality and liaising with Public Health England on advice to the public.

The Salvation Army has been providing support at the scene. Major Stephen Slade (left) is pictured with Environment Agency chief executive Sir Francis Bevan (centre) and Oliver Harmar, North East Director

Residents nearby have been told to keep doors and windows closed, but Environment Agency North East director Oliver Harmar said the smoke was unlikely to pose any serious health risk.

All hazardous substances had been removed from the site when it closed in 2015.

"We have kept a close eye on the plume and been feeding all that information through," he said.

"We have also been taking quality samples from the River Wear, but we are not too concerned about that - the river is big and it is tidal here, so it gets diluted very quickly."

Sunderland City Council chief operating officer Les Clark said it was too early to put a total cost on the operation.

It was possible the organisations involved would look to apply to the Government for major incident funding to offset some of the cost, but that would not be for some time

"There is the possibility we will look towards applying but we need an understanding of what the costs are," he said.