Westwood Industrial blaze unit contained 6,000 bales of ‘illegally stored’ waste

The blaze has been going since Saturday Photo Jon Brooks

The blaze at the former Cummins unit on Westwood Industrial Estate, now in its fourth day, contains 6,000 bales of illegally stored waste, according to the Environment Agency.

Fears that the site was a potential fire hazard due to the waste in the building were raised in a BBC report in January.

And prior to that Thanet District Council officers visited the site in May 2017 and reported concerns about waste to the Environment Agency.

The agency has confirmed an investigation was carried out, and is ongoing.

A spokesman said that the agency has not issued a waste storage licence for the site and the contents are there illegally.

Image Simon Moores

The spokesman added: “This is illegal waste. Our investigation is continuing. We did serve notice on the operator in 2017 to clear the site but that was ignored.

“What we know is there are approximately 6,000 bales of waste and that is a mixture of all sorts of waste.

Baled waste pulled from the unit by firefighters Photo David Rankin

“We continue to investigate and to keep our legal options under review. We are working with KFRS and Thanet council and will continue to gather evidence of what we believe to be an illegal waste site.”

The spokesman said more notices could be issued or a decision could be taken to launch legal action.

Fears have also been raised over asbestos at the site although this is yet to be officially confirmed.

Photo David Rankin

Crews were called at 6.20am on Saturday (September 15) to the blaze. At the height of the fire there were 80 firefighters, 14 engines and specialist vehicles on the scene.

Firefighter Ian Thomson, who was the duty brigade manager at the scene on day one, said the blaze has been fed because the unit is ‘packed from front to back with ‘flammable waste’ including plastic wrapping, cardboard and wood.

Photo Tyrone Keen

Residents in the area have been advised to keep doors and windows shut, especially in the Dane Valley area due to a wind direction change. Northdown Primary has alerted parents that it is closing and children can be taken home because of the smoke.

Residents and businesses have also been to the site to give crews water and food.

The cause of the blaze is not yet known. There will be an investigation once it has been extinguished.

The unit was once owned by Hilger Analytical, sister company to Hilger Crystals which still has a building on the site.

Jim Telfer, MD of Hilger Crystals, said: “Hilger Analytical who were our sister company owned the complete site since the mid to late 1960s. In the mid 1990s they were sold and moved offsite. The large building. Unit P (where the fire is), was sold and the owner leased it to several companies including  Cummins.

“They moved off site a few years ago and the building remained empty until the current owner used it for waste storage. The Environmental Agency made a spot inspection and concluded they did not have a licence. The (waste) then stopped arriving but what was in there remained.

“There were numerous acts (of vandalism) and even schoolkids found use as a play area.

“Thanet District Council. police, fire services  were all informed and legal action is on going against the owner

“Hilger Crystals only share the same post code. We have no ownership.”

Photo John Horton

A Kent Police spokesman said: “Kent Police is continuing to liaise with Kent Fire and Rescue Service and other agencies to ensure an effective response and once the fire has been put out we will work alongside KFRS to establish the cause.”

Road closures

Photo Jenny Baker

Star Lane closed at the junction of Star Lane Link road.

Nash Road closed at the roundabout junction of Star Lane, will have access only for residents of Wherry Close from the roundabout, all other residents will access from the other end of Nash Lane (junction with Empire Terrace).

Advice from Public Health England 

  • People living and working in areas affected by smoke should stay indoors and keep their doors and windows closed.
  • Motorists who have to travel through the smoke should keep windows closed, turn off air conditioning and keep their air vents closed.
  • Some of the substances present in smoke can irritate the lining of the nose, throat and lungs, the skin and the eyes. Symptoms may include coughing and wheezing, sore throat, feeling short of breath, runny nose or eyes or chest pain. In general, exposure to smoke is more likely to affect people who have existing breathing problems, lung or heart conditions.• People who are generally fit and well are unlikely to experience long-term health problems from temporary exposure to smoke from a fire.
  • The very young and very old, smokers, and people with flu or flu-like illnesses, may also be at greater risk after exposure to smoke from fires.
  • To minimise your exposure, limit the amount of time you spend outside in the smoke. People with asthma who may be in the vicinity of the fire should carry their inhaler.
  • If symptoms persist seek medical advice by calling NHS 111 or by contacting your General Practitioner (GP). If a medical consultant is already treating an existing health condition, discuss your concerns and symptoms with them. In the case of an emergency call 999.

For advice about smoke affected areas click here


  1. Thank you Kathy for bringing the facts to the publics attention. I for one was not aware of the case that the company were operating without a licence or that TDC and KCC had inspected and done nothing to close the business down in 2017.

    • Who were the company involved and why didn’t TDC OR KCC Act sooner to prevent this disaster from happening.
      If the EA had served the Company with a Notice to clear the site, Why wasn’t it enforced?

  2. What an absolute scandal, so all of the people who have been put at risk by inhaling the toxic smoke and the businesses that were forced to close and the disruption caused to QEQM where I understand some operations were cancelled due to the smoke from the fire, in addition to the huge cost and high risk the fire service and firefighters have had to endure. We are now told the waste was stored illegally. When the order to remove the waste was first given it should have been forcefully followed up. Instead of being bogged down in red tape and allowed to drag on. The end result of that has put thousands of men women and children at long-term health risk. I hope those responsible are delt with appropriately by the courts.

  3. Not only has everyone that lives and works near been exposed to smoke, it has caused already tedious traffic to become horrendous! If our children would have been late for school we would have been penalised despite road closures! My children are at Northdown and missed a day of school. We live in the Dane valley area and the headaches that me and my children have suffered have been unbearable! The amount of stress, time and risks due to the fire is disgusting, makes you wonder why nothing was done when it was first discovered?! KCC AND TDC at their finest!!

  4. Well this brings back memories of the Grenfell tower block fire in London where the authorities knew about the cladding not being to standards and were repeatedly warned but did nothing. Corporate manslaughter through dereliction of duty. How long should these authorities spend on continuing investigations. This they knew about for well over a year and all they did was serve a notice on the proprietor which was ignored ! That is not good enough as they had the powers to enforce that notice. You would have thought this would have been cleared due to the dangers and no licence being issued. To allow it to go on was negligence by the Environmental Agency who should now pick up the cost of this huge operation. There is too much reliance on red tape and not enough common sense in authoritative agencies and Councils these days, that’s why nothing ever gets done when warnings come in. It is just by luck that nobody has been directly killed with this incident, but a lot of people in Thanet have been badly affected with breathing difficulties and more, a lot of places have had to close because of the continued smoke, and many more have been stuck in traffic jams worse than normal. Somebody must be brought to book for it all. This should no longer be ignored.

  5. How much has Thanet counsil been paid to go away.Its this sort of thing that spoils a lovely place for those that live there.Council need to stand up and be counted.

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