Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Ocado warehouse fire: Homes evacuated amid 'explosion risk'

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Media captionAbout 200 firefighters spent Tuesday night tackling the blaze

Homes have been evacuated because of the risk of a toxic cloud or large cylinder explosion at a large fire sweeping through an Ocado warehouse.

A 500m exclusion zone has been set up as firefighters continue to tackle the blaze, which broke out on Tuesday morning.

Deputy chief fire officer Andy Bowers said the evacuation of Walworth Industrial Estate in Hampshire was a precaution to keep the public safe.

A major incident has been declared.

Mr Bowers said: "We have a risk of a toxic release or a large cylinder explosion.

"We are working extremely closely with all of our partners to keep the public safe."

Image copyright Fareham Fire Station
Image caption The fire service said parts of the building are likely to collapse

Some homes 1.6km away from the site were due to be evacuated depending to the wind direction, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service said.

Residents outside the exclusion zone have been told to "stay put and close doors and windows".

Test Valley Borough Council said residents who needed to be evacuated would "be informed by emergency services visiting your property".

But the local authority advised people who were able leave their properties without assistance to do so.

A fire service spokeswoman said about 20 families were at a rest centre set up in Harrow Way Community School, Andover, after being evacuated from their homes.

She added it was a "strong possibility" that people who work within the exclusion zone would not have access on Thursday morning.

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Media captionResidents evacuated from homes say "it's been a nightmare"

Chief fire officer Neil Odin said the initial small fire had taken a "dramatic turn" early on Wednesday morning and firefighters had to be withdrawn.

"This building is not meant for humans to be interacting with the racking and the storage - it has robots moving racking on to loading bays, so for firefighters trying to get in that high and to make an effective fire-fighting strategy, it has been very difficult," he said.

Mr Odin added the "extensive" fire had led to a "large cylinder with refrigerant gas in it" being affected.

Firefighters have been tackling the blaze on the Andover site for more than 40 hours, after crews were called to the scene at 02:44 GMT on Tuesday.

Four firefighters have been treated for minor smoke inhalation, but no Ocado staff were injured in the blaze.

Image copyright Fareham Fire Station
Image caption The fire was declared a major incident by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Residents were urged to keep their windows and doors shut due to the smoke from the fire

More than 300 firefighters were tackling the blaze on Wednesday afternoon, after it was declared a major incident.

The fire service said the blaze involved automated packaging machinery.

Ocado said the fire, which started in a corner of the ambient grid, has caused substantial damage to the majority of the building and its contents. Part of the roof has also collapsed.

Image caption The blaze involved automated packaging machinery

Ocado shares have dropped 6% and the retailer has warned of a hit to sales.

The online grocer said it expected a fall in sales until it could shift operations to other warehouses.

More than 30,000 orders are processed by robots at the Andover warehouse each week, but Ocado has not given any detail about what the impact will be to customers.

The grocer has other warehouses, including in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, which have been unaffected. The Andover site accounts for 10% of Ocado's capacity.

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