Smethwick fire: Government rejects lantern ban

image captionEarlier police tweeted the helicopter images they sent to control centres on the ground at the height of the fire
image captionPictures from the helicopter showed the extent of the fire and the smoke it emitted
image captionAt its peak, more than 200 firefighters attended the blaze
image captionPolice liaised with air traffic control at Birmingham Airport to advise on smoke cover
image captionWest Midlands Fire Service area commander Steve Vincent said crews had made "good progress" tackling the fire
image captionFirefighters have extinguished much of the fire since arriving on Sunday night

The government has rejected the idea of a ban on Chinese lanterns after one was found to have caused a fire at West Midlands recycling plant.

About 60 firefighters remain at the fire involving 100,000 tonnes of plastic material in Smethwick.

The MP for Warley, John Spellar, is calling for the lanterns to be banned but the government said the number of fires they caused were "very small."

He said he also wants tighter controls on the storage of recyclable materials.

"The sheer amount of plastic stored together meant the fire spread rapidly through such a large site," Mr Spellar said.

"There is a real safety issue as to the amount of combustible material that is stored in one place and the Environment Agency needs to review that very urgently."

'Learn the lessons'

Investigators established a lantern, captured on CCTV falling on to the site, was to blame for the blaze.

Mr Spellar said he had written to the fire minister, Brandon Lewis, calling for lanterns to be banned.

"People are sending these fires into the air not knowing where they're going to land, it really is a massive risk," he said.

The region's chief fire officer, Vij Randeniya, has also called for a review to be conducted into their use.

A Downing Street spokesman said there "needed to be a proportionate response" and the number of fires caused by Chinese lanterns was "very small".

media captionSteve Vincent, from the fire service, said firefighters had to battle against intense heats to deal with the fire

More than 200 firefighters attended the blaze, which began on Sunday night and caused £6m worth of damage.

Twelve were treated for injuries, three of whom were taken to hospital as a precautionary measure.

The blaze, which covered an area of about 90,000 sq m, was described by the fire service as one of the biggest it had dealt with in the West Midlands.

It said it was the 15th fire at similar sites it had dealt with in the past year.

David Hudson from the Environment Agency said it would be investigating to see whether the fire could have been prevented.

He said: "There have been a number of these in recent weeks and clearly we need to look at that and learn the lessons.

'Breaking point'

"It's not acceptable to us that these fires just happen we need to do something to reduce the incidents.

"We will be working closely with the fire service to manage the risk."

Chris Jones, from the Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum (WISH) said preventing fires at recycling plants was a complex problem.

He said "You can't just go and install sprinklers on sites this big.

"[Sites like this] can be made as safe as they possibly can but you can't have something completely without risk, because of the types of materials being stored, it's completely unobtainable."

image captionTwelve firefighters have been treated for minor injuries

West Midlands Fire Service said most of the fire had been extinguished but about 10% of the site was still alight.

It said at the height of the fire on Sunday night it had "just one fire engine left on standby".

Fire Brigades Union general secretary, Matt Wrack, said: "The Smethwick fire stretched the service to absolute breaking point."

"[We are concerned] that a number of fire engines that attended the incident are due to be cut, so the question is how would West Midlands Fire Service have responded to a fire like this if it was next month?"

West Midlands fire service announced plans in April to shed 34 firefighter jobs and decommission four engines next month.

Fire minister Brandon Lewis said: "All fires, no matter the size, can cause loss of life, but in the last decade there has been a 40% reduction in incidents and accidental deaths, and fires in homes have fallen to an all-time low.

"However, during that time expenditure and firefighter numbers remained broadly the same."

He said the government had created a £75m fund to "deliver new efficiencies and encourage greater collaboration across emergency services".

The fire service had said earlier it hoped to partially reopen surrounding roads, Dartmouth Road, Halfords Lane and Brasshouse Lane, later.

Nearby Galton Valley Primary School, in Brasshouse Lane, was closed for a second consecutive day.

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