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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Kiveton Park: Villagers demand answers over four-month fire

A burning industrial buildingSupplied

An industrial waste fire in Kiveton Park, near Sheffield, has sent smoke into the air for nearly four months. As the battle to extinguish the blaze looks to be drawing to a close, BBC News spoke to some of those affected.

The day of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, 8 September 2022, stands out in the memories of Kiveton Park’s residents for another reason.

As flags across the world were lowered to half-mast that night in tribute to the monarch, smoke was rising into the sky above the South Yorkshire village. Firefighters were sent to tackle burning waste which the fire service and Environment Agency said was illegally stored at Kiveton Park Industrial Estate.

At its height, huge flames tore through the former steel factory, which housed a mountain of baled waste, and thick plumes of black, acrid smoke billowed above the building’s skeleton.

But over nearly four months later and the blaze is still not out, with deep-seated pockets of smouldering rubbish repeatedly reigniting.

Fire crews at the scene

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue

People living near the site fear the effects the fumes could be having on their health. They have been told to keep their windows and doors closed, but residents have reported breathing difficulties and said the smell of smoke was at times impossible to escape. Seventeen weeks after the fire broke out, some say they cannot take any more.

“A lot of us have decided we’re going to have to move,” said Cheryl Barton, 65, who lives less than half a mile from the fire site and who cancelled plans to host family from Canada for Christmas because she did not want to put them at risk.

“This has been going night and day for 17 weeks now,” she added. “We’ve not been able to live feeling safe in our own homes. We’ve not been able to be out in the garden, we’ve had our windows and doors closed.

“We just feel so let down, almost betrayed. The only message we keep getting is, ‘bear with us, we’re working tirelessly’. There is only so much of that you can take.”

A woman

The owners of the Station pub, less than 500 yards from the fire site, have been forced to install air purifiers despite keeping its doors closed in a bid to keep smoke out.

“But you can still smell it,” said landlady Lindsey Garner. “Even if you haven’t been outside, you can still smell it in here. It’s horrible to say, but it’s something you get used to, which you shouldn’t have to.”

The 48-year-old, who has run the pub for nine years, said the blaze had harmed trade at an already difficult time for businesses.

“Obviously, it’s stopped people coming down because they can go further up the road or a different way the wind is blowing and they’re not sat in smoke,” she said.

A sign on a pub door

The Environment Agency, which has been working with South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service on the major operation to extinguish the blaze, said this week that an end was “on the horizon” at last.

Crews have had to battle through melted plastic which formed a “crust” on top of the waste and have also been hampered by the condition of the building, the fire service said.

An excavator has been used to shift the rubbish, which the Environment Agency said was “stored at an illegal waste site”, to give firefighters better access to the burning pockets.

A spokesperson for the agency said: “The work to extinguish a waste fire at Kiveton Park Industrial Estate is nearing completion.

“We are continuing to ask local residents to bear with us while the work is completed.”

Lindsey Garner

But local residents, who were previously told the fire would likely be out by Christmas, remained sceptical. They also feared the blaze would not be the last at the site, where a number of other fires have been reported previously.

Ms Barton said: “Even when this fire goes out, what’s going to happen to all the waste that’s still there?”

Another local resident, who asked not to be named, said he was relieved at the prospect of the fire being extinguished, but said: “The next thing is clearing up the site.

“Another thing is, we don’t know what these materials are which are burning,” he said, adding he knew of at least four other people considering moving away from the area because of the fire.

Several other local residents told the BBC they were concerned the fire could have done lasting damage to the environment and people’s health.

However, the UK Health Security Agency, which has been monitoring air quality in the area since November, said it had not detected any “significant impacts from the fire” so far.

But an air monitor installed by the agency had found elevated levels of particulate matter, a harmful product of smoke, downwind from the industrial park.

Blaze at Kiveton Park

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue

Ms Barton, a registered nurse who runs a cosmetic surgery clinic, said: “I’m really a bit worried about people telling me locally here that they’ve got sore eyes, sore throat, that they’re having problems getting to sleep at night, that kids are wheezing or having more asthma problems.

“If four agencies can’t put the fire out, I have no faith at all that anybody is going to join any dots up for the future health of this community.”

Residents have also expressed anger that 200,000 tonnes of waste were allowed to build up at the industrial park, which is currently owned by Alfie Best, one of the UK’s richest men.

The businessman, who has a property empire worth £700m, acquired the site through his company Best Holdings in 2019.

Mr Best told the BBC that his company had bought the land as an investment and leased it out.

He said: “We don’t operate the site and we’ve never operated the site.”

A burning industrial building

Mr Best said he believed a previous tenant had been granted a licence by the Environment Agency, however he had not been consulted.

He added: “I know some of this waste caught fire and the fire service has done an unprecedented job, they’ve been brilliant.

“I went up there personally, I flew up there to see what was going on, and we worked out a remit of how to get the fire out and to separate the waste that was on site.”

Mr Best said he was not aware of any previous fires since the current tenant, who he did not name, moved on to the site 12 months ago.

Alexander Stafford, the Conservative MP for Rother Valley, voiced “serious concerns” about the Environment Agency’s oversight of the industrial park, where he said waste “has been dumped on an excessive scale for the last nine years or so”.

In a letter to Environment Secretary Therese Coffey, he said residents felt the agency had “failed to bring the situation under control”.

The Environment Agency said it was “in contact with current land owners and site managers to discuss the timely removal of waste from the site, once the fire has been extinguished”.

It added it was looking into any potential offences at the site and could not comment further on the investigation.

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