After containment, fire now out.

Partners responding to the fire at the abandoned Alex Smiles waste site in Deptford say they are satisfied that the blaze is now out  - Thursday 7 June.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, Sunderland City Council, the Environment Agency and Public Health England have been tackling the incident since it broke out on Monday 14 May.

When the fire first started there were fears that it could continue burning for weeks if not months, as has been the experience at other waste sites in other parts of the country.

But just over two weeks after fire-fighting moved from containment to the removal of the material and dampening down, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) confirm the fire has now been extinguished. 

Alan Robson, Assistant Chief Fire Officer for Community Safety at TWFRS, said: "This has been a significant incident to deal with and I would like to praise our fire crews for bringing the incident to a successful conclusion. I would also like to thank the public for their patience whilst we resolved this incident.

"Incidents such as this present particular challenges to the fire and rescue service and partners alike and are often protracted incidents. These incidents are best resolved through an effective multi agency response. We have worked closely with Northumbria Police, Sunderland City Council, Environment Agency, Northumbria Water and colleagues from NHS England at Deptford.

"Although the firefighting action is now completed, the investigation in to the cause of the fire will continue over the coming weeks."

More than 7,000 tonnes of waste have so far been safely removed from the main warehouse since machinery started to remove the material from the buildings to allow more fire-fighting 15 days ago.

This has involved identifying and removing any remaining hot and smouldering material from inside the building before cooling it and making it safe.

Working under guidance from the fire service, contractors have also been able to get machinery inside the main building, allowing them to access piles of smouldering waste which were previously out of reach.

The Environment Agency and Sunderland City Council have been monitoring air quality and water quality in the River Wear from the very start of the incident to minimise the impact on local communities and the environment.

Les Clark, Chief Operations Officer at Sunderland City Council, said: "This has been about protecting public health first and foremost. That's why we've worked with partners to limit the risk to people living and working nearby.

"The partner agencies involved in the response have made tremendous progress in tackling the blaze since fire-fighting moved from containing the fire to a more aggressive approach 15 days ago.

"The fire service are now satisfied that the fire is out so the intention is for partners to secure the site and withdraw from it, pending a long term solution for the land.

"This is a privately owned waste site which was abandoned when the business which previously ran it went into administration in 2015. So now that the immediate emergency is over the sole responsibility for the site passes back to the owners' pension fund.

"Prior to the fire, Sunderland City Council and the Environment Agency had been working hard on a creative solution to the problem left behind by the site's owners when their business failed, leaving thousands of tonnes of waste, costing millions of pounds to remove.

"In the long term we are keen to bring the site back into use but this is something that will require millions of pounds of investment to clear the site.

"So we need to be realistic about the timescales involved and we also need to assess the impact of the fire on those plans."

Jamie Fletcher, Area Environment Manager for the Environment Agency, said: "This is an excellent example of partners working together to minimise the risk to people and the environment; our water quality tests have shown no significant impacts on the River Wear.

"We are assessing whether there are any grounds for enforcement action to be taken for waste offences and we will continue to work with Sunderland City Council to support future solutions for the site."

Public Health England have been providing advice to help people living a working in the area to minimise any exposure to smoke from the fire since it first started.


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