Blaze breaks out at Kent recycling centre – site remains closed

Blaze breaks out at Kent recycling centre

A huge blaze at a Gravesend recycling centre needed eight fire engines at its height to bring it under control on Saturday evening (21 April).

The Pepperhill Household Waste Recycling Centre (HWRC) on Station Road, Southfleet, is a covered recycling centre that processes 70 per cent of the waste from Gravesham Borough Council and Dartford Borough Council in Kent, and became the first high technology recycling centre in the UK when it was opened in 2008.

The HWRC was reported on fire on early Saturday evening, with six fire engines initially dispatched to the scene at 6.20pm. Eight fire engines were eventually deployed, along with a bulk water unit and height vehicle, and the crews were on the scene overnight and throughout Sunday, assisted by drone cameras and relief crews from across the county.

By 4.30pm on Sunday, three fire engines were left to tackle the blaze, along with a mechanical digger to clear debris, and the Kent Fire and Rescue Service stated that one crew remained on the scene into Monday morning. Smoke from the fire blew over the nearby A2 leading to temporary speed restrictions, and residents in the area have been advised to keep windows and doors closed.

It is currently not known what caused the fire, but the site remains closed, and residents have been asked to avoid visiting alternative sites ‘unless absolutely necessary’ due to an increase in traffic. Gravesham Council has also warned that there may be disruptions to refuse collections as a result of the incident.

Waste fires are a continuous problem, with Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) stating last year that there have been around 250 incidents of waste fires per year for the last decade, with an estimated cost to fire and rescue services of around £16 million a year.

In response, the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum published revised guidance on waste fires for waste site operators. The guidance incorporates the results of a series of waste burn tests, which, over the course of 2015 and 2016, contributed to the development of understanding and knowledge of waste fires.

Update 23 May: Kent County Council (KCC) has stated that the Pepperhill HWRC will need to remain closed for a number of months due to the amount of work required. Levels of chlorine in the building, produced by the different waste types burned, mean the entire site will have to be decontaminated, a process taking approximately eight weeks, while up to a month after this could be spent renewing cladding, electrics, CCTV and the sprinkler system. A second phase of work may be required to replace the roof, dependant on the amount of damage.

KCC Waste Services Manager Kay Groves commented: “We appreciate that while the site is closed it will be inconvenient for people wanting to get rid of their waste. This incident has created severe pressures on the surrounding HWRCs, particularly Dartford Heath, Swanley and the Medway site at Cuxton.

“At the moment we have planned for the site to be closed until August to undertake the first phase of decontamination. We will then look to temporarily open the site once the first phase is complete, whilst planning, preparation, design and procurement of the works related to the roof removal takes place.

“The second phase closure is earmarked for October/November or February when seasonal demand is at its lowest. We will endeavour to have part closures of the site to lessen the impact, but safety is priority.”

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