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EA warned UK company over wood storage before major fire, court hears

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A 10-day fire that broke out at a wood chipping facility in Yorkshire, UK in 2014 was the “biggest fire in 11 years”, according to the firefighters who tackled the blaze. The fire, which was caused by 7,000 tonnes of poorly-stored wood chippings, created vast plumes of smoke that could be smelled 16 miles away in the city of Sheffield.

Around 45 firefighters – a third of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s total resources – were called out to tackle the fire every day from 2 June to 12 June 2014, according to The Star. Seven appliances, including a high-volume pump borrowed from West Yorkshire, were needed during the operation, which cost £566,000.

Firefighters pumped thousands of litres of water from a nearby reservoir, James Puzey of the Environment Agency (EA) told Sheffield Crown Court on Friday. The blaze was difficult to control due to the lack of fire-breaks between the stacks of wood. Contaminated water was also discharged into two lagoons on the site and escaped into a dyke that feeds into a local river. As a result, a nearby sewage treatment plant run by Yorkshire Water had to be shut down, at a cost of £45,000, as the ammonia levels in the water reached 10 times the permitted level.

According to the report, R Plevin & Sons was asked to reduce the size of its wood stockpiles due to the risk of combustion. At the time of the fire, the stacks were estimated to be around 18 to 20-metres tall. Three months after the fire, only 11% of the stockpiles were deemed to be EA-compliant.

R Plevin & Sons bought the site in May 2013 for £2.5 million (€2.9 million) and built the £5 million (€5.8 million) factory, creating 50 jobs, after signing a 25-year contract with E.ON to process waste wood for its Blackburn Meadows biomass power station near Sheffield. The company was ultimately fined £200,000 (€234,000) with £30,000 (€35,117) towards costs.