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SERVICES 
Monday, 15 April, 2002, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Chemical fire factory will not reopen
Flames and smoke from Distillex
Distillex will clear the site as soon as it is safe to do so
Owners of a chemical plant that caught fire and forced 500 people to leave their homes will not reopen the factory.

Distillex is to clear the site in Tyneside when it gets clearance from health and safety inspectors.

The company has admitted its operation is "inappropriate" because it is too close to a large residential area in North Shields.

Police have also said the evacuation operation at the height of the incident should have been more extensive.


We will endeavour to clear the site as promptly as we can and as safely as we can

Chris Nicholls, Distillex
On Monday, the Health and Safety Executive was leading an inquiry into the fire.

At its height a half-mile exclusion zone was established forcing people to leave their homes because of fears for their health.

Engineers were called in on Saturday because of fears that buildings close to a chemical fire could collapse.

Fumes and smoke from the fire spread across the region and it took 25 crews five hours to bring the incident under control.

Medical advice

On Monday, Distillex operations director Chris Nicholls told BBC Radio Newcastle its solvents recycling operation would not continue.

"When we are given permission by the HSE we will endeavour to clear the site as promptly as we can and as safely as we can," he said.

"Seeing the aftermath of this incident it would seem it is an inappropriate location for such an operation."

Distillex fire
Witnesses heard explosions
Over the weekend residents living around the factory were being given medical advice.

Chief Inspector Derek Scott, of Northumbria police, said the emergency services responded well to he incident.

"However, it would seem that not as many people were evacuated as perhaps should have been," he said.

It is believed the fire was caused by a spark, which ignited flammable material in a skip and the fire then ran out of control.

Distillex managing director Adrian Jones told BBC News Online: "I believe that as they were making a transfer to the skip a spark was created as a natural result of metal contact.

"That caused the ignition of a material that was in the skip. That could be a rag with oil or solvent on it.

Smoke from Distillex fire
The smoke was seen from 20 miles
"The operator tried to dampen it with a fire extinguisher but was unable to and as a result the fire spread."

In a series of explosions, containers and drums were thrown into the air.

As the fire took hold, thick billowing smoke could be seen more than 20 miles away.

Second incident

Most of the 500 people were allowed back on Friday night, but up to 100 spent the night at a leisure centre.

The Distillex factory employs 12 people and is thought to contain between 40 and 50 different types of chemicals.

The Lancashire-based firm recycles solvents used in industry.

The plant was at the centre of a similar alert in January when a cloud of toxic vaporised methylene chloride was released after chemicals overheated.


Click here to go to Tyne
See also:

13 Apr 02 | England
Chemical fire inquiry starts
30 Jan 02 | England
Tyneside chemical alert over
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