POLLY RIPON, SHEFFIELD TODAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 2006
MORE than 40 firefighters from across South Yorkshire tackled a huge blaze at a Sheffield warehouse last night after the building went up in flames.
Eyewitnesses reported hearing three loud explosions as a huge plume of thick black smoke billowed from the former Union Carbide Factory on Claywheels Lane, Wadsley Bridge.
A full investigation into the cause of the blaze was continuing this morning – and arson is not being ruled out.
The warehouse is less than half a mile from Fletchers bakery which was ravaged by a huge fire in July.
Flames leapt high into the air and could be seen licking at the building from city centre offices three miles away.
At its height the blaze was tackled by eight fire crews from stations in Sheffield and Rotherham.
Eyewitness Maggie Ashton was visiting her daughter in Wadsley when they heard the explosions and alerted the fire service.
She said: “My daughter alerted the emergency services just after 7pm. We heard three huge explosions and saw a large cloud of thick black smoke rising up into the sky.
“I could see all these flames, they were really huge, massive flames and the smoke turned the sky completely grey. All the factory workers were standing outside watching.”
Another eyewitness Darren Roberts, 17, said the roof of the warehouse, which is used to huge industrial size bales of paper to be made into toilet rolls and tissues, had collapsed.
He said: “I saw it from across the city in Walkley. We came down here to get a bit closer and see what was going on. We were about 20 yards away from the fire. The flames were as tall as two houses on top of each other. We could see burned pallets of toilet rolls and flaming tissues going up into the air.”
Geoff Stevens, of Middlewood Road North, said: “There were plumes of thick, black smoke billowing up into the sky. The explosions sounded like fireworks. At first we thought that was what they were, then we saw the smoke.”
Police last night closed off Claywheels Lane as fire crews worked late into the night to tackle the blaze.
They urged residents living in Wadsley to keep their doors and windows closed over night.
Tony Meade, from Central Fire Station, who was in charge of tackling the flames, said “When crews arrived explosions were heard and roller shutter doors had bowed out caused by cylinders exploding against them.
“There was a problem with asbestos in the roof and walls because of the age of the building. The initial clouds of smoke could have caused health problems for local residents but fortunately by the time they reached nearby homes, the clouds had dispersed.
Steve Pashley, from South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “When we arrived it was well alight and residents had reported hearing loud explosions coming from the building. We believe that there may have been acetylene cylinders inside.”
Mr Pashley said fire crews tackled the blaze from the outside the building and had not entered the warehouse.
Two pumps were still at the scene this morning monitoring the smouldering building.