Chinese lantern believed to have started huge fire at Midlands recycling plant near Birmingham

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Rescue services are still tackling the fire that broke out in Smethwick on Sunday evening

A major fire at a factory in Smethwick where 100,000 tonnes of plastic recycling bundle material caught fire was started by a Chinese lantern, the fire service have confirmed.  

Approximately 200 firefighters were deployed to battle the blaze that caused thick plumes of smoke to rise 6,000ft in the air.

Firefighters were called to attend the scene on Sunday evening at the recycling plant J&A Young on Dartmouth Road.

The fire was categorised as “major” by the West Midlands Fire Service because of “the strain it placed resources” and is believed to be the biggest to have ever broken out in the West Midlands. The first call reporting the blaze came in at 11.19pm, and despite reaching the site within minutes, it had grown so rapidly the fire service had to split it into three specific fire-fighting areas.

The fire has now been reduced to approximately a third of its original size.

Now MPs have spoken out against the use of lanterns, arguing that they are dangerous for both industrial sites and conservation.

Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich took to Twitter and said the incident “should spell the end of Chinese lanterns. They're just not safe.” Meanwhile, in a joint statement, the National Farmers Union rural surveyor Louise Staples said: “Our members know how dangerous these lanterns can be. They can harm or kill farm animals by ingesting a wire frame in chopped grass and there is the fire risk to standing and stored crops, to buildings and they can cause wild fires on moorland.

“As we have seen today, they can also cause severe fires on an industrial scale, an event that left several people injured.

“We really would hope people would think twice about releasing them into the air because of the very real dangers they pose.”

Speaking from the scene, Vij Randeniya , Chief Fire Officer for the West Midlands Fire Service said the fire was under control, but had been very difficult to contain. He said: “It was quite a tricky incident because the fire moved and spread so quickly. The fire happened in a space measuring 300 square metres, so we have been trying to contain a blaze covering an area that big.”

Residents were instructed to stay inside their properties without opening windows and doors. Mr Randeniya said: “Plastic also burns at a high rate and produces acrid, toxic smoke.

“We are ‘modelling the plume’, so we are looking at how big the fire is and how high it’s gone. The air quality at the moment means that everyone is safe, but people should not be opening their windows or putting their washing out today.

“The fire is releasing a lot of smoke which is toxic, but it is not at ground level.”

Now Mr Randeniya, who is President of the Chief Fire Officers Association, has called for a meeting with “those in the top level of waste management.”

“We are going to be here for a few days trying to put the fire out”, he said. “This is the 15th fire in a waste transfer site in the West Midlands alone. We would like to have a meeting with the top level of waste management - we are spending a lot of time and resources dealing with these.”

Two fire fighters were taken to hospital “as a precaution” and eight were treated by ambulances on the scene for minor injuries. The fire is believed to have caused up to £6million in damage.

CCTV footage of the event captured a lantern landing on the plastic stacks in the industrial site. Eight minutes later, it set on fire. West Midlands Fire Service is now calling for a review into the use of Chinese lanterns.

“We don’t want to be party poopers”, said Mr Randeniya, “but we have cause and effect here. They [the lanterns] can travel for miles and the wind currents have been particularly fierce with this fire. These lanterns have set fire to a number of properties and waste sites before.”

There were 35 fire engines and three hydraulic platforms being used to extinguish the fire, along with two high volume pumping units.

By Monday afternoon, the unit had received over four hundred calls about the blaze.

Motorists were also urged to avoid the M5, whilst nearby Galton Valley Primary School was shut due to road closures.

Birmingham International airport were alerted to the blaze due to the smoke plumes, which could be seen by motorists as far away as Oxford and Coventry. A spokesperson for the airport said: "Our operation has been running as normal today. We have had no disruptions."

In a statement released on Sky News, the director for Jayplas thanked the emergency services for their "speedy response" and for "dealing with this incident in a thoroughly professional manner".

"I'd also like to thank our staff on site for raising the alarm as soon as they were aware of the fire which allowed the fire brigade to act quickly and reduce the severity of the incident. Speaking with the Fire Investigation Officer, it looks likely the fire was caused by a Chinese lantern on site. This was a tragic accident of which we had no control. We would like to apologise to all of our neighbours for any disruption caused by this incident and hope to see things back to normal as quickly as possible.

"Jayplas will do everything we can to assist the emergency services and the Environment Agency to ensure the site and surrounding areas are made safe and cleaned up as quickly as possible with minimum impact to the local environment. We hope to have the site up and running as soon as possible."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Ashdown Group: Linux Administrator - London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator ...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower