Call to find "the idiots" who may have caused Chorley landfill fire

A Chorley councillor is calling for anybody found to be responsible for a fire at a landfill site in the borough to be “brought to justice” – warning that the incident could have been far worse than it was.

Monday, 19th April 2021, 4:25 pm
Updated Monday, 19th April 2021, 4:26 pm

A blaze broke out at the Clayton Hall Sand Quarry in Whittle-le-Woods on Saturday afternoon when seven tonnes of plastic on the surface of the tipping facility caught light.

The material was due to be used as part of the capping process carried out on areas of the Dawson Road plot that are no longer receiving new waste.

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Huge fire involving seven tonnes of plastic breaks out on Chorley landfill site

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The aftermath of the fire at Clayton Hall landfll site over the weekend (image: Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service)

It is understood that the fire initially sparked Lancashire’s multi-agency Operation Merlin response, but that was quickly stood down when the incident was brought under control. The four crews in attendance, who arrived at 2.45pm, left the scene after two hours.

However, Clayton and Whittle ward councillor Mark Clifford – who also chairs a community liaison group monitoring the operation of the landfill – says that the gas extraction process at the facility meant that the emergency services could have been facing a more serious situation.

He also condemned “the idiots” - seen by locals - acting suspiciously on the landfill before the blaze broke out.

“Credit where it’s due to the operator, because it’s through the good management of the site that they have placed the liners that caught fire on top of sand – and not directly on top of waste.

Membranes due to be installed on parts of the site no longer in use went up in smoke (image: Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service)

“If it had been the landfill [material] rather than the [plastic] membranes on fire, that would have been a disaster – a fire underground will burn for a long time.

“Gas is extracted via a network of pipes throughout the landfill itself and that’s fed into the national grid. If the fire had been able to run through the pipework and oxygen was allowed in…there could have been an explosion.

“Luckily the generating engine wasn’t running at the time, it was just burning gas off rather than generating electricity,” Cllr Clifford explained.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service has launched a joint investigation with Lancashire Police – although neither organisation would confirm at this stage whether the incident is being treated as arson.

...and the crews were at the scene for two hours

The sprawling landfill site is fenced off and operator Quercia has round-the-clock security in place.

However, Cllr Clifford says that he will be raising “serious questions” with the company over whether the level of protection is sufficient for the entire plot to be guarded properly, after previous reports of low-level trespass by children.

A spokesperson for Quercia said that the “small fire” on a restored area of the facility was “quickly extinguished”.

“The fire was contained to some rolls of geotextile used in the restoration of the site.

“We would like to thank the local fire services for their prompt response. We are investigating how the fire was started and liaising with local police.”

The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that the gas extraction system operating on the site is of low flow and operates under suction, which enables different areas to be isolated if required.

Restoration material like that which caught fire over the weekend is stored away from the operational areas of the tip.

The Clayton Hall landfill hit the headlines three years ago when it was at the centre of complaints from residents about a pungent smell, which was eventually remedied by capping.

The facility is expected to remain operational for around another five years, before the landscape is restored.