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News Release - Council thanks residents after Westhampnett fire is finally extinguished

Posted on 10 April 2019

Residents and businesses in the Chichester area are being thanked for their patience following a fire at a Household Waste Recycling Site (HWRS).

A large fire involving over five hundred tonnes of household waste broke out at the recycling site and waste transfer station in Westhampnett on the evening of Tuesday 2 April.

The fire was extinguished at lunchtime today (Tuesday 9 April) after fire crews using specialist equipment spent the last week 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 advisor 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.

Viridor and the County Council thank the Viridor site team and West Sussex and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Services for their assistance and ask the public to dispose of batteries responsibly at a household waste recycling site and, as summer approaches, to ensure barbecue ashes have been to left to cool for at least 48 hours or thoroughly wet these ashes before placing out for collection.

If people do need to visit another site the nearest ones are at Bognor Regis, Worthing, Billingshurst and Littlehampton.

Bognor Regis and Littlehampton will continue to be open seven days a week for the time being. Please note that Bognor Regis and Littlehampton are not able to accept trailers.

If anyone is concerned about their exposure to the smoke, particularly those with existing breathing problems, lung and heart conditions, they are advised to call NHS 111 or their local GP.

For more information about West Sussex Household Waste Recycling Sites please visit www.westsussexrecycles.org/recycling-sites.