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Battery recycling centre fire poses challenges for Fire and Rescue Service

14 May 2024

A MAJOR fire at a battery recycling centre in Scotland has highlighted the significant challenges faced by firefighters when tackling blazes involving waste lithium-ion batteries, reports the Business Sprinkler Alliance. The incident, which required a multi-agency response over a number of days, shows the complex and protracted nature of waste fires and the additional challenges involved in extinguishing this type of blaze.

Photo: John Cameron (Unsplash)

The fire at the Fenix Battery Recycling Plant in Kilwinning, North Ayrshire on 8 April required six appliances, 40 firefighters and specialist equipment from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) to tackle the blaze.

What caught a lot of attention was the close proximity to new residential homes, Police and other agencies (including Public Health Scotland) advised residents to stay indoors and keep their windows and doors closed as a precaution.

Two days after the fire, the SFRS warned local residents of a possible increase in smoke from the site through “increased activity” in an attempt to fully extinguish the blaze. The fire was finally dampened four days after the initial blaze broke out.

While there were no reported injuries, the impact on the local community and environment was significant. Scottish Water and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency adopted several measures to minimise the impact of pollution to the local environment.

Significant challenges

The fire at this battery recycling facility posed significant challenges for firefighters due to the nature of battery fires, which can burn for long periods and release toxic and hazardous gases in the process.

The introduction of lithium-ion batteries has expanded the challenge, including the potential for explosions as the flammable gases generated during fires involving them can ignite. This makes the fires extremely difficult to extinguish through normal firefighting operations.

A report from the Environmental Services Association found that lithium-ion batteries are now responsible for around 48% (ie circa 200) of all waste fires occurring in the UK each year and cost some £158 million on an annual basis.

The underlying fire record of the waste and recycling sector continues to be typified by large events, the number of firefighters required to contain blazes and reporting of high volumes of smoke and contaminants.

Further, fire water run-off requires monitoring by the relevant agency. There’s also the environmental impact in terms of disposing of the damaged properties, not to mention the costs, resources and materials required to repair and rebuild them.

Combination of strategies

Preventing large and costly fires is possible through a combination of strategies. One of the most effective strategies to contain such incidents is the use of automatic sprinkler systems that aid the Fire and Rescue Service when they arrive. They can minimise the wider impact of fires, reducing costs to business and the economy as a whole.

Importantly, by limiting any fire damage, sprinkler systems allow businesses to resume operations quickly, often within hours of the incident. This was adequately demonstrated by a fire at a Biffa waste site in Irlam in January 2021. Fire sprinklers fitted at the site activated, quickly putting the fire out and minimising the damage caused as a result of the incident.

*For more information about the Business Sprinkler Alliance visit www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org