Residents living near the site of a huge factory blaze in Wolverhampton have been warned to stay inside and avoid touching debris from the fire amid fears over an asbestos risk.
Public Health England (PHE) issued the advice this afternoon after flames ripped through A.S.H Plastics and Archive Services at the Clearwater Industrial Estate in Ettingshall Road overnight.
The government agency said the risk to health was low but encouraged anyone who has not been evacuated from the local area to keep doors and windows closed and to leave any ash or debris from the blaze alone.
Around 64 firefighters battled to stop the fire spreading to other units at the industrial estate, where asbestos from the roof may have been released in the smoke which plumed high into the sky and across Ettingshall.
Emergency services were called just before 11pm yesterday. Strong winds fanned the flames which gutted four units before the fire was brought under control in the early hours. Crews remained damping down at the site well into Wednesday.
PHE emphasised that even if there was asbestos in the fire-ravaged roof, the majority of fibres would remain trapped in the material, meaning the risk of asbestos exposure remained low.
Nonetheless, the agency encouraged residents to keep away from the smoke and to leave any wreckage from the fire for Wolverhampton council to clean up.
Anyone with debris on their lawn should avoid mowing it until it has been removed, and wreckage should not be vacuumed or swept in case of creating airborne dust.
The health body said in a statement:
“There is no direct evidence of long-term health risks from fires involving asbestos-containing materials but it is sensible that any asbestos containing debris is removed to minimise any potential exposure.
City of Wolverhampton Council has assessed the situation and has commissioned specialist cleaning contractors to clean up the local area.
In the meantime, if residents do find ash or debris from the fire on their property, they are advised to leave it alone and to contact the local authority on 01902 551 155 so that clean-up can be arranged.”
Although the A.S.H. Plastics factory and Archive warehouse were devastated by the blaze, two nearby units – including one holding shopping mall Christmas decorations – were saved by firefighters, who are still investigating the cause of the inferno.
Watch Commander John Wildman from Bilston fire station, who was on the first appliance to arrive at the scene, said: “Flames were shooting through the roof and up four metres (12 feet) into the air above the building.
“The strength of the wind and the substances involved made it quite difficult to control but arrival of the hydraulic platforms made it easier to knock back the fire.”
If you experience any symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, watery eyes or cough as a result of the fire contact your GP or NHS 111 on 0845 46 47 or 111 as appropriate.