By Joanne Butcher – Journal Live
The 200-tonne stockpile of biomass pellets, at Port of Tyne’s Tyne Dock, South Shields, caught fire early yesterday.
The fuel is understood to have spontaneously combusted following a chemical reaction within a concrete storage unit.
More than 30 firefighters from stations in South Tyneside and Gateshead were called to the scene and battled to put out the fire, deep within the huge stockpile of fuel.
Crews were still at the scene last night and officers said it could take 24 hours to completely put out the flames – although the fire was swiftly brought under control.
Firefighters were called to the Port of Tyne at 5.20am on Sunday after safety monitoring equipment in the storage unit detected the fire.
Group manager Ian Robertson said the fire had started deep within the stockpile, which covers an area of some 100,000 cubic metres.
“The fire was in a huge biomass fuel storage facility of compressed timber pellets,” he said.
“Large piles of combustible material are prone to self-ignite, because heat builds up within the pile and has nowhere to escape. That is what has happened here, the wood spontaneously combusted.
“The Port of Tyne have monitoring systems in place, but unfortunately by the time the system detected the fire it had already taken hold and we had a deep-seated fire within the fuel storage pile.”
Carbon monoxide had built up within the unit and had to be cleared before crews could get to work on tackling the blaze.
Then firefighters began digging into the stockpile to uncover the burning wood and extinguish the flames.
“The mechanics of fighting the fire are relatively simple, and the fire was quickly under control,” Mr Robertson added.
“But because the fire was so deep-seated it was very time-consuming. We used mechanical diggers to dig into the pile, expose the burning material and damp down as we went. It is a long process.”
Around 25 tonnes of wood are thought to have been burned in the fire, inside a 150m by 60m concrete storage unit.
But no one was injured, and no buildings needed to be evacuated.
It is understood the fire service will now work closely with the port management to investigate the fire and try to prevent future outbreaks.
The Port of Tyne began handling biomass at Tyne Dock last year in a new £20m facility.
The largest in Europe, it can handle up to 1.5 million tonnes per year and takes deliveries of up to 75,000 tonnes at a time from cargo ships.
Wood stored at the port is eventually taken by train to Drax power station in Yorkshire, where it is used in biomass burners.
According to the Port of Tyne’s website, a shipment of wooden pellets was due to arrive into the port last night, on the Egyptian cargo ship Wadi Albostan.
A spokesman for the port said: “Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue service attended a fire at a cargo handling building at the Port of Tyne on Sunday.”
“The fire was brought under control quickly and contained in a small area within the facility. There was no damage to property and minimal impact on port operations.”