‘Good progress’ made in tackling Sonae fire

16 June 2011

By Caelia Quinault

Firefighters tackling a fire which broke out at the Sonae chipboard factory in Knowsley last week have said they have made ‘good progress’ in bringing it under control.

However, the Fire and Rescue Service expects to remain on site until the end of the week and it is unclear when the facility will re-open again. This is of concern to wood recyclers who use the factory – which is the largest reprocessor of waste wood in the UK - to take their waste wood.

Sonae makes its chipboard in Knowsley from 98% recycled waste wood
Sonae makes its chipboard in Knowsley from 98% recycled waste wood

Some wood recyclers have already raised their gate fees in response to the closure of Sonae, to ensure they are not swamped with material.

What is more, the incident has prompted George Howarth, the Labour MP for Knowsley, to table an Early Day Motion in Parliament calling for “Sonae to be closed down for good”. This is because he says the factory “has been the site of numerous fires and accidents over recent years, including the tragic death of two workers in December 2010” (see letsrecycle.com story).

Mr Howarth has also criticised Sonae for attracting “long standing complaints about dust and air quality from residents and businesses and four inquiries by the Health and Safety Executive’ over the past decade.”

Scene

The Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service was first called to the Sonae factory at around 8pm on June 9. Twelve fire appliances were called out and two crews still remain at the scene, controlling a fire in six concrete bunkers involving around 2,000 tonnes of woodchip.

Firefighters have had the fire surrounded since Friday and have prevented it from spreading. Importantly, it is understood that the factory itself has not been affected.

In a statement, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service said today (June 16) that ‘good progress’ had been made in tackling the fire.

Area Manager Phil Garrigan said: “The fire in a number of those bunkers has been extinguished. A demolition company has been engaged by Sonae who will review the integrity of the building.”

Group manager Guy Keen said: “We are on track to conclude fire service operations by the end of the week. Most of the product has burnt off. The trouble we have is that the concrete bunkers are unsafe for firefighters to deal with the fire from the inside, so we have been carrying out a controlled burn out to minimize the smoke and impact on the environment.”

HSE

As yet, the cause of the fire is unknown. A spokeswoman for the Health and Safety Executive said that it was investigating the incident.

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Sonae

HSE

A spokesman for Sonae declined to comment on the fire or give any indication as to when the plant might re-open again. But, he said the company would make an announcement as and when there was something more to report.

Sonae processes 1,200 tonnes of waste wood a day at the Knowsley factory. This wood makes up more than 98% of the chipboard the company produces.