Events and response

Around 2:45 pm, inside a firm specialised in metal recovery, fire broke out at a zone for storing scrap iron originating from dumpsites (metal bin contents) and from individual refuse (water heaters, gas cookers, etc.).

In observing the smoke release, site personnel attempted to respond with extinguishers and a hydraulic shovel to access the source located at the bottom of the scrap heap. Incapable of bringing the blaze under control, the team notified emergency services. Fire-fighters sprayed some 6,000 litres of water per minute. They removed the intact waste using a crane. Due to the fire’s extreme heat emissions, metal began to melt (iron melting point: 1,500°C).

A thick plume of black toxic smoke spread throughout the expansion space and was visible as far as 30 km away. A safety perimeter was set up around the site. The local town hall organised an evacuation of residents under this plume (in all, 400 individuals involved). A municipal room was made available for the evacuation effort. The next morning, new sampling indicated that the smoke was no longer toxic. Local residents returned home. The fire was contained by the beginning of the afternoon.

Consequences and actions taken

One fire-fighter was injured during the response.

A total floor area of 1,300 m2 and a total volume 8,000 m3 were affected by this incident. The burnt scrap iron was sorted and routed through its normal disposal channels.

The fire had broken out on a ground that was not impermeable. Of the 7,000 m3 of water used by fire-fighters, just 80 m3 could be recovered in the rainwater settling tank. The remainder was absorbed by the soil and sprayed into the air. An analysis of the site’s 4 piezometers was conducted to evaluate the impact on groundwater. Other analyses focused on the zone’s soils and plants to determine the impact of falling smoke particles.

Analysis of the causes

Among the metals processed at this site, a portion is routed for crushing at specialised facilities (given that they contain sterile and flammable components), while the other portion is routed for on-site shearing (considered clean substances devoid of sterile components). The fire broke out in the part containing substances tagged for crushing (200 m2, i.e. 150 tonnes) and then spread to the adjoining heaps, which contained a smaller proportion of flammable substances (1,100 m2).

Temperatures had been soaring to heat wave levels for several consecutive days. The overheated metal compounds most likely ignited in contact with flammable elements (grease, paper, etc.) contained in the mix of materials.

Measures adopted

The facility operator implemented the following measures:

  • 25-tonne limitation in the waste storage zone dedicated to crushing
  • Storage of wastes on a concrete floor in the vicinity of fire-fighting resources
  • Reduction of heap dimensions (in both length and height)
  • 2-m spacing of the various heaps in order to avoid spreading.

Moreover, it was anticipated to install a first responder fire protection network.