Flames from a huge blaze at a plastics recycling firm almost ripped through an entire Sheffield industrial estate – destroying businesses and putting hundreds of workers out of jobs.
The fire at Sheffield Reclaim – a charity for adults with learning disabilities who sort plastics, cans and textiles for recycling, spread to three other nearby firms – but firefighters who tackled the blaze said the flames could easily have spread and engulfed the entire industrial estate, off Lumley Street, Attercliffe.
Station manager Matt Walker, who oversaw the firefighting operation yesterday in the wake of the blaze, said: “The response of the crew was outstanding. They stopped a potentially catastrophic incident.
“If the crews had not got their tactical plan in place as quickly as they did it could have been the whole industrial estate that caught fire.”
A fire service investigation into the cause of the blaze, which broke out on Sunday, at about 2.30pm, is under way.
It destroyed the recycling plant and severely damaged three other neighbouring business premises, sending huge plumes of thick black smoke into the air, which could be seen from as far away as Leeds and Wetherby.
Other firms based on Lumley Street were also unable to trade as roads were cordoned off while the firefighting operation continued.
The only business given permission to operate yesterday was Veolia, to ensure Sheffield’s bin collections were not affected by the blaze.
Engineers from Sheffield Council’s dangerous structures team have also been to assess the fire-damaged buildings to decide whether they should be razed to the ground. Their findings have not yet been announced.
Station manager Walker said sporadic fires kept breaking out yesterday despite crew drenching the debris with water from the canal.
He said that once the area is deemed safe for machinery to be used the plastic involved in the fire will be overturned to get to all the ‘hotspots’ underneath to ensure the fire is extinguished fully. Crews could be at the scene for another day.
Station manager Walker, who was also involved in tackling the fire at its height on Sunday afternoon, said: “Due to the volume and type of material involved in the fire, there were large quantities of thick black smoke and flames, which meant we needed 10 fire appliances and 50 firefighters to get it under control.
“Due to the close proximity of the buildings the fire spread quite quickly, badly damaging the recycling plant and three other businesses, which were affected by the fire and smoke.”
Lumley Street and nearby Foley Street had been cordoned off at both ends on safety grounds.
Station manager Walker said: “Roads have been cordoned off for public safety and firefighters’ safety – the risks of collapsing structures are a real hazard to firefighters.
“We are awaiting the reports of the council’s dangerous structures team who will be carrying out risk assessments and feeding back to us.
“We have worked really closely with the police and Veolia, which is within the cordon, so that bin collections are not affected across the city.
“We have also been liaising with firms which have been unable to open.”
Colin Mills, of vehicle service and repair centre AC Cartech, one of the firms unable to open yesterday, said: “I came down on Sunday when the fire started and you could see the thick, black smoke for miles.
“There were loads of fire engines – it was chaos.
“There were also lots of people pulling up just to see what was happening.
“I had never seen a fire on that scale before.
“I got here on Monday at 8am not knowing if I would be able to open up, it was just a waiting game. Obviously, there was nothing I could do about it and I had customers expecting to pick their cars up, but we were in the hands of the fire service.”
Philip Dalton, who runs Dalton Roofing on Lumley Street said: “We were driving down the Parkway when we saw the fire and then my sister called to say she had heard about the fire and wondered if our yard was involved, so we went up there and there was just thick smoke everywhere.
“You couldn’t get near because of all the fire engines and emergency vehicles.
“We went back yesterday morning to be told by the firefighters that potentially we might not be able to open up again for three days.”
Star reader Nuclear Gibbon, who posted on The Star’s website, said: “This fire is going to have such a negative impact on a select few.
“I did voluntary work at Reclaim before Christmas. It is/was a charity-run recycling facility who employed adults with special needs to help run it in order to help give them a sense of belonging.
“There was an education centre there too, so that on days when employees weren’t working, they would come in and do activities.
“It was a great place for these disadvantaged adults to go and to socialise with each other – now they’ve got nowhere to go.”