Twenty-five day blaze at Westwood industrial unit fuelled by household and construction rubbish

Aftermath of the Westwood unit blaze Photo David Rankin

Construction and household waste fuelled the fire that burned at a Westwood Industrial estate unit for 25 days.

Firefighters were first called to the blaze, at the former Cummins building, at 6.20am on Saturday, September 15.

At the height of the fire there were 80 firefighters, 14 engines and specialist vehicles on the scene.

Acrid smoke from the blaze covered Westwood and Margate, and even further afield, throughout the duration of the incident. Northdown Primary was closed due to “unsafe carbon monoxide readings.”

The Westwood unit was packed with 6,000 bales of the waste, according to the Environment Agency.

Smoke over Westwood during the blaze Photo Phil Fellows

The agency has now revealed that following inspections of the site the materials appear to be skip waste made up of construction and household rubbish.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: “The operator/landowner of the site is responsible for the removal of the deposited waste.

“Inspections of the waste visible on the site have revealed that it appears to be skip waste – a mixture of construction and household waste.

“Our investigation into exactly what was stored on site, and the incident itself, is ongoing.”

Photo David Rankin

The Environment Agency previously confirmed that a licence to store waste at the site had not been issued.

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.

Fears have also been raised over asbestos at the site. Although this is yet to be officially confirmed there is a Thanet council building control notice from February this year which describes the unit as a “vandalised building containing asbestos and possible toxic waste.” The status of the notice is marked as ‘pending consideration.’

Air pollution monitoring

Photo Stuart Young

A Thanet council statement says it was not considered necessary to carry out air pollution monitoring. The statement says: “In the initial stages of the incident Public Health England and the Environment Agency worked closely with KFRS to assess the impact of smoke and whether air quality monitoring was required.

“Taking into account various factors, including the nature of the fire and weather conditions, it was agreed that monitoring was not needed.

“Public Health England advises that during long-running fires, concentrations of substances in smoke are often below those which pose an immediate risk to health, but may still result in discomfort or temporary health effects. It should be remembered that short-term, temporary effects do not mean that long-term health effects should be expected.

“Those people who are affected will mostly have immediate effects such as coughing or a tight chest. These symptoms usually disappear very soon after the exposure has stopped and do not lead to any long term health problems.”

The unit owner and the business rates payer

A business rates document compiled by Thanet council and updated in June of this year reveals the company listed as holding the rates account for the unit at Westwood Industrial Estate is Devon-based DW Land Ltd.

Photo John Horton

The company is listed as occupying Unit P/CIL Unit P as of January 1, 2017, with uses described as workshop and premises and factory and premises.

The director of DW Land Ltd, David Weeks, is named as the person with significant control of the company on Companies House as of January 18, 2018.

Photo Chloe Nicholson

Last month he told The Isle of Thanet News that he was “an agent” for the tenant, saying of the lease: “I was there to assist.”

He added: “The site was derelict. We (Mr Weeks and the man he says he was acting for) put together a plan but he let someone put pallets in there.

“There were lots of problems and the unit was broken into. I’m told it will be condemned.”

A spokesman for the unit owner, British Virgin Islands company Conservation Property Holdings, claimed that it had rented the property out to the firm. Spokesman Biju Ramakrishnan claimed waste was stored at the unit after a lease was signed.

The Isle of Thanet News is yet to see documents confirming any other tenant.

Firefighters at the former Cummins unit Photo Tyrone Keen

Firefighters are due to leave the site today (October 10) bringing the emergency phase of the incident to a close and firefighting operations will cease.

Duty of care will be handed to the land owner and Thanet District Council will be the facilitators to the recovery process.

Photo John Horton

The fire service now deems the site safe in terms of the fire being fully out, and therefore will no longer have a presence there. Public Health England’s advice to close windows and doors has now been lifted, as smoke is no longer coming from the site.

Some sections of the unit were demolished as part of the operation to extinguish the fire. Any decisions about what happens to the building next will be made by the landowner.

Mr Ramakrishnan has been asked for comment about the imminent clear-up operation.

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

Read here: Brilliant Thanet residents and businesses donate supplies to fire crews battling blaze at former Cummins unit

Read here: Four children arrested in connection with Westwood industrial unit fire