Littleport Fire Is Out: Full Report.

THE fire at the tyre reprocessing plant in Wisbech Road, Littleport is now out, exactly seven weeks after the fire began. Fire-fighters have worked tirelessly in difficult conditions to extinguish in excess of 2000 tonnes of shredded rubber product whi

THE fire at the tyre reprocessing plant in Wisbech Road, Littleport is now out, exactly seven weeks after the fire began.

Fire-fighters have worked tirelessly in difficult conditions to extinguish in excess of 2000 tonnes of shredded rubber product which caught light on August 21.

Chief fire officer Graham Stagg said: "This has been an extremely challenging incident for us and I would like to thank the people of Littleport for their patience over the last few weeks.

"We have worked extremely closely with the Environment Agency, Health Protection Agency, East Cambridgeshire District Council, police and Health and Safety Executive to tackle the fire in the quickest and safest way for everyone.

"I fully appreciate that conditions have not been very pleasant for local people working and living in the area and I am pleased to be able to give the news that the fire is now out."

Graham continued: "Fighting fires is a complex job and this has not only been the most challenging incident we have had to face in Cambridgeshire but there has not been an incident of this nature and size in the country before.

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"I can appreciate it has been difficult for people to understand why we couldn't just put a lot of water on it as we do most other fires but I would also hope that people would trust that if it was as simple as that we would have done so.

"Although the fire is out the incident has not concluded, it just moves into the clean up phase now and this may take some time as the large quantities of contaminated ash, water and material on the site need to be transported off the site in a safe and responsible way. As agencies, we will continue to monitor this operation."

The fire started just before 3pm on Friday, August 21. For the initial fire-fighting operation, 10 fire engines and a number of specialist vehicles attended.

Due to the large plume of thick black smoke residents were told to stay out of the smoke and keep doors and windows closed, and police officers evacuated the immediate area.

By 7pm the building and HGVs destroyed by the fire were extinguished and just the large piles of rubber product remained and were contained. Crews were not able to get anywhere near the piles due to their size and the heat coming from them and at that time the safest course of action was to allow the piles to burn.

A few days on fire-fighters were able to get nearer to the piles and discovered a method of extinguishing the fire in small sections, using heavy machinery to scrape away the edges of the piles and douse in water to cool.

At the same time crews started testing a number of different wetting agents that may have been able to speed up the process, however, none of these made any significant improvements to the process already in use.

Since then, fire-fighters have worked with the operators of the heavy machinery provided by the site owner to continue the process of breaking up the piles in small sections at a time.

Throughout the operation, the fire service has worked together with the other agencies, each of whom have played a vital role in ensuring the incident was dealt with safely and with minimum pollution to the local area.

The Health Protection Agency has issued advice to residents and businesses who have suffered with the effect of the smoke. They want to reassure people that it is unlikely that there will be any long term health effects caused by the fire. If anyone does become ill and is concerned it may be related to the fire, they should contact their local GP in the normal manner. The local GPs have been fully briefed about the fire and what has been burning. Those living in close proximity to the site will be sent specific advice around cleaning their homes.

The Environment Agency provided technical support to the fire service throughout the incident. It has been heavily involved in managing the large volumes of contaminated firewater on site and its potential environmental impact. Environment Agency officers responded rapidly when a small amount of firewater leaked from the built-in water containment system and it was quickly contained, preventing a major water pollution incident.

Kevin Rutterford from the Environment Agency said: "Now the fire is out we will be ensuring the contaminated fire water is dealt with and the site is cleaned up. We will continue our investigation, while working with our professional partners to look at the extent of contamination around the site and carrying out further monitoring of the watercourses."

East Cambridgeshire District Council has carried out a number of roles during the ongoing incident. In the first few hours, potential rest centres were identified and staff were put on stand by in case they were needed. Later on in the operation, the council's housing team offered temporary accommodation for those worst affected.

The main ongoing role for the council has been the gathering of air quality data to help the Health Protection Agency to provide expert, up to date and accurate health advice to residents and business in the area. Throughout this incident, the council has worked closely with the Health Protection Agency, Fire Service and Environment Agency to share all the data and information to coordinate and mange the incident as effectively as possible.

Police officers and local PCSOs have carried out speed monitoring in the area as a result of concerns from local residents and workers that many near miss accidents were occurring due to motorists looking at the incident and not the road as they drove past. Police patrols were also enhanced in the area to reassure public and prevent crime and no increase in crime has been recorded in the area during the last few weeks.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has provided advice on the workplace risks arising from the fire. This has included providing specific information on the risks to fire-fighters and others working on the site, including the type of respiratory protection needed working so close to the smoke and burning material. The HSE has also given advice to local businesses on how to minimise the risks from exposure to the smoke.

The HSE is one of the primary investigators for an incident like this and has already started to investigate how and why the fire started. It will be some time before the results of any investigation will be known as an investigation of this nature takes time.