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Lithium battery suspected cause of fire at Viridor facility

A Viridor recycling centre that caught alight in Chichester, and likely to burn for a “number of days”, may have been caused by lithium batteries.

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service was called to the fire at 8.25pm on 2 April to the Stane Street household waste recycling centre (HWRC) in Westhampnett, where they found the fire developing in the main building.

At the height of the blaze, four fire engines plus an aerial ladder platform were in attendance. Fire crews remained at the scene overnight and the next day.

The facility is run by Viridor for West Sussex County Council, which is telling residents to avoid the area and keep their windows and doors shut because of huge plumes of smoke. No casualties have been reported.

A Viridor spokesperson said the fire was now under control and there is “no risk to public health”. While the cause is not yet known the company added: “Viridor suspects that a likely cause is lithium-ion batteries.

“These batteries are the main cause of waste site fires. They are commonly found in a variety of products, including mobile phones, toys, cameras, e-cigarettes and laptop computers.

“Viridor and the county council thank the West Sussex Fire and Rescue Services for its ongoing assistance.

“We ask the public to dispose of batteries responsibly at a household waste recycling centre and, as summer approaches, to ensure that barbecue ashes have been to left to cool for at least 48 hours or made thoroughly wet before placing out for collection.”

At lunchtime today (3 April), West Sussex fire station manager Pete Sadler said: “We’ve been here since 8.30pm last night. We will be here for a number of hours – potentially days – to make sure the fire is extinguished completely and appropriately.

“We have been working with, and in conjunction with, environmental health, the Environment Agency (EA) and Viridor representatives. The fire at the moment is contained within the property, although the smoke is a consideration along with environmental considerations.

“At the moment we are not putting any water on the fire. We are allowing it to continue to burn in a controlled manner, again in conjunction with the EA.”

The decision to allow a controlled burn was made to prevent pollution to local water courses but the decision is being kept under “close review”, according to the council. Viridor said tankering procedures were in place to remove the water used by the fire service last night but that no water was used today.

The council has said that while the HWRC is closed, residents should use nearby recycling facilities such as Worthing, Billingshurst, Littlehampton and  Bognor Regis – which is being kept open seven days a week “for the time being” to help accommodate residents.

The EA South East said: “We’re working to minimise any risk of harm to the local environment and to investigate how the incident occurred.”

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