A major investigation is continuing to discover if a spectacular blaze at a Preston recycling plant was started deliberately.
Fire investigators and police launched an inquiry yesterday into the inferno which raged throughout the night at Recycling Lives in Longridge Road, Ribbleton.
More than 100 firefighters from Lancashire and Greater Manchester fought the flames which rose 100 feet into the air from a mountain of scrap cars and could be seen from as far away as the M61 near Bamber Bridge.
The cause remains a mystery, although CCTV footage from the site and from neighbouring businesses is now being examined to see if there is any evidence that the fire was the work of arsonists.
“I hope not,” said Steve Jackson, chief executive officer of Recycling Lives. “But every inch of this site is on CCTV and we have asked other companies like Booths and James Hall to look at their footage to see if there was anything untoward.
“Investigations are ongoing and we have to leave that to the fire department. But what we can do is make sure they have all the video footage at their disposal.
“We are looking at where we believe the fire started. It is closest to the far right-hand side, in between ourselves and the industrial estate next door.”
The blaze was spotted at around 9.30pm on Thursday and, despite a rapid response from emergency services, it was well alight when fire crews arrived. A total of 15 appliances, including foam tenders and aerial turntable platforms, raced to the scene.
The fire was considered so severe that Operation Merlin was declared – a multi-agency emergency alert which is reserved for only the most serious incidents.
“This was a serious fire,” said station manager Gary West, who was at the scene throughout the night. “We are not sure at this stage how it started – that is being investigated. But we can’t rule anything out yet.
“When we arrived, the flames were pretty high. We had to get water supplies from some distance away. Our main concern was preventing the fire spreading to buildings nearby and another large stack of vehicles at the side.”
While scores of scrap vehicles were destroyed, the swift action of firefighters and company staff prevented the fire spreading to nearby buildings and the adjacent pile of cars.
Steve Jackson paid tribute to the rapid response of crews, which meant the company was able to get back to normal after just a day of tidying up.
“The fire service responded in lightning speed, it was an absolutely amazing service,” he said.
“The working relationship between the fire service and our staff was terrific in preventing this becoming much worse. We are extremely grateful to them all.”