Birmingham fire: Call for Chinese lanterns review

Firefighters tackle the blaze at the recycling plant. Picture: West Midlands Fire Service/PA

Firefighters tackle the blaze at the recycling plant. Picture: West Midlands Fire Service/PA

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A CHIEF fire officer has called for a review into the use of Chinese lanterns after one started a huge blaze which caused £6 million of damage to a recycling centre near Birmingham.

About 100,000 tonnes of material is burning at Jayplas recycling facility in Smethwick, in what is one of the largest blazes in the region in recent years.

Fire investigators have established a Chinese lantern - captured on CCTV falling onto the site - was to blame for the fire, which at its height was being tackled by more than 200 firefighters.

Vijith Randeniya, chief fire officer of West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service, said: “My forensics people have been here from the start and have reviewed CCTV and and spoken to people and looked at the way the fire started and looking at the CCTV evidence, you can see a Chinese lantern floating gently, and then land and then eight minutes later you see the fire start.”

He said the Chief Fire Officers Association had previously called for a review of the use of Chinese lanterns and said it was time that “sensible people have a sensible discussion” about the issue.

“We don’t want to be party poopers and we know they are used in a lot of celebrations,” he said.

“What we want to do is make sure sensible people have a sensible discussion about the use of these things. Clearly there is a cause and an effect

“We have a situation where a fire has started here, £6 million worth of loss, started by one of these lanterns and that was eminently preventable.”

He added fire crews were expected to be on the site until at least Tuesday, but were having to use plant machinery to “break up” the bales of plastic to get at the heart of the fire.

One of the problems facing firefighters is having to extinguish molten pools of melted plastic, he said.

The fire was first reported at 11pm on Sunday night and at its height had sent a plume of smoke 6,000ft (1,830m) into the sky which could be seen in neighbouring counties.

Although the smoke was of no danger to the public, residents living nearby were asked to keep doors and windows shut.

Meanwhile, West Midlands Ambulance Service said a total of 11 firefighters had now been treated for a variety of injuries with three taken to hospital, although none have been seriously hurt.

There had initially been fears that flights at Birmingham International Airport could have been affected by the huge column of smoke.

However, an airport spokesman said “operations were continuing as normal” and no flights had been affected.

No-one from Jayplas - J&A Young (Leicester) Ltd - was immediately available for comment.

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