HOT weather caused a massive blaze at a South Oxfordshire hazardous chemicals recycling depot at the weekend, fire bosses said.

Oily rags ready for disposal were ignited by 21C temperatures at Grundon Waste Management Ltd, Ewelme, near Benson, investigators found.

Plumes of thick black smoke were seen across the district and residents in nearby villages were warned to shut their windows.

About 75 firefighters and 10 fire engines attended the Goulds Grove blaze – reported at 7.20pm on Saturday – and put it out by 3am.

It was contained within a waste sorting building which had fireproof walls and stores items like lithium batteries.

Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service group manager Grahame Mitchell, below, said: “You need a lot of things to be present for it to happen, including oily rags, exposure to sunlight and a hot day. It’s quite rare but not unheard of.”

He said the building was destroyed with the roof burnt through.

Residents within a three-mile radius including Ipsden, Nuffield, Britwell Salome and Huntercombe were urged to shut their windows.

Benson and Wallingford were not affected due to wind patterns, fire commanders said.

Waste staff were present and paramedics attended but no-one required treatment. Environment Agency fume tests found no danger to health.

Volunteers from the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church rapid response team provided food and drinks to about 100 emergency staff.

Jo Goddard, 45, of Beggarsbush Hill, near Benson, said: “You could taste it. It kind of made your mouth feel all dry. But it wasn’t like the smell of tyres or plastic.”

Oxford Mail:

Fire crews at the waste plant yesterday

David Reynolds, 34, of The Street, Ewelme, said: “At first I was quite worried, because I know they deal with hazardous waste up there.

“But there wasn’t a panic or anything. I’m just glad it’s out now and no-one was hurt.”

The firm – which in 2012 said the depot processes 7,500 tonnes a year – could not be reached for comment.

Incident commander Nigel Wilson said firefighters on a 10am to 5pm strike would have returned to work had the blaze fallen in that time.

He said an agreement was in place for those on strike over pay and pensions to return for a “serious incident”.

Oxford Mail:

Oxford Mail reader Lu Anthony captured this dramatic shot of thick black smoke rising from one of the buildings at the waste plant

Non-striking crews attended all 999 calls, a minor collision on the A34, a person locked in a property in Witney; an Eynsham car fire; a first aid call to Lord Williams's School, Thame, and a child stuck up a tree in Banbury.

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