Factory blaze sparks appeal

Factory blaze sparks appeal

8 September 2021

A MAJOR blaze at a waste recycling plant near Killough last week has sparked an appeal to the public to dispose of their waste properly.

Substantial damage was caused to MacNabb’s plant last Thursday morning after a propellant — which may have been  a battery — started a ferocious fire in a shredding machine.

Fire crews rushed to the Downpatrick Road plant with firefighters using an aerial appliance and high volume pump to tackle the blaze from the air and on the ground, as 50 staff were forced to evacuate.

Nearby residents were advised to keep their windows closed as firefighters fought the blaze, with nine appliances part of the major Fire and Rescue Service operation. A dedicated command support vehicle was also sent to Killough.

Firefighters — working in challenging conditions and assisted by some of the recycling plant staff  — wore breathing apparatus and used a combination of water and foam to bring the blaze under control.

Last week’s incident has prompted a senior official from MacNabb Waste Management Ltd to remind the public to dispose of waste properly and ensure that the proper material is placed in dedicated recycling bins. 

A company spokesman, who confirmed that no jobs have been put at risk as a result of the fire, appealed to people “not to pass on hazards to someone else” insisting that the public needs to consider how it disposes of its waste.

While part of the recycling plant was badly damaged in the fire, further damage was avoided due to the company’s fire suppression system and while it was back to business on Monday morning, a spokesman for the recycling plant said that unfortunately, “the improper disposal of waste has been a reoccurring trend among recycling centres”.

He continued: “This is a key reason behind quite a few fires in the waste industry recently. There is this assumption that there is a deliberate attempt to burn waste facilities which is just untrue. Waste facilities are progressive, forward thinking and install state-of-the-art machinery and detection systems. 

“All waste companies put in a lot of money, time and effort to ensure prevention procedures are in place. It is a highly regulated industry and there are no corners which can be cut.”

The spokesman said health and safety procedures are also of paramount importance.

He continued: “We think it’s too easy to point the finger at the waste company. It needs to go back a couple of stages so that everybody, including the public, think about how they handle their waste and don’t pass on a hazard to somebody else.”

The spokesman said there are examples of objects that are commonly disposed off improperly which can result in incidents such as last week’s fire at the Killough plant.

“The public are going to amenity centres for example and disposing of their household rubbish in recycling bins. However, the biggest problem we get from this are lithium batteries and whenever they travel through the process line, the heat they emit is unreal,” said the spokesman.

“Lithium batteries create a white or blue high pressure flame that you cannot put out due to how quickly it spreads. We want the public to understand that disposing of those batteries incorrectly is putting people’s lives at risk. Even the smallest of batteries pose a risk.”

The spokesman explained that the Killough plant deals with four to five different types of waste on site and that any material which cannot recovered is made into fuel for the cement industry.

He said that it was on this particular processing line that a propellant of some nature got into the system and exploded in one of the shredders which caused it to catch fire immediately. 

“There was nothing we could have done on our end,” he explained. 

“Our message to the public is to be very careful about what they are putting in their waste. They need to think twice as they could be putting in a potentially hazardous item into their wheelie bin or skip. 

“There are knock-on repercussions for the people who are trying to handle that waste and divert it from landfill. It’s critical that people don’t incorrectly throw away anything that is potentially flammable or explosive because they are passing on their waste to a company and that is passing on a danger.”

The spokesman said last week’s blaze “took hold within seconds” with all staff evacuated safely after the automatic fire detection system was activated.

He added: “I think the reason why the fire was brought under control so quick, aside from the work of the Fire and Rescue Service, was partly due to the selfless actions of the employees.

“Firemen were able to direct our staff to the hot spots they were focusing on, so that they could operate the machinery we have on site to pull material back from the fire, allowing firefighters to very quickly and target the areas producing the most problems. This was a catastrophic event on one particular waste processing line.”

The Fire and Rescue Service said crews from across the province responded to the Killough fire with the cause of the blaze believed to have been accidental ignition.