BASF, Wilton, Teeside. 9th October 1995

Accident summary

At approximately 0400 hrs on the 9th October 1995 the fire alarm sounded in ICI's Wilton Site Emergency Services Control Centre, alerting of a fire in the BASF warehouse which was used for storing polypropylene finished products. Almost an hour later a major emergency on the site was declared and the full on-site emergency plan initiated. The fire generated a large black plume of smoke, although this was declared non-toxic. Police alerted the public situated down wind of the fire to stay indoors and to close windows. The "Redcar" trunk road was closed and employees of adjacent companies, including those on-site, were advised not to report to work.

The warehouse facility met the building regulations and was equipped with a range of fire safety features. This included fire doors, operated both by fusible links and smoke detection, which failed to close during the fire. No cause was established for this. However, it may have been attributed to the fact that the warehouse did not become completely smoke logged, as smoke was vented through the roof. Hence, the smoke failed to activate the detectors, which would have closed the doors.

No direct root causes for the fire was determined. However, the results of the investigation by BASF and the Cleveland County Fire Brigade suggests the probable cause was a fluorescent light fitting overheating, causing the ignition of its Perspex refectory which dropped flaming molten plastic onto stored product below. The warehouse lighting was in continuous use.

No injuries or ill health were reported.

The perceived risk was low and therefore no formal risk assessment for dealing with a major fire for the warehouse was undertaken. Following the incident it took several days to re-establish the inventory and its layout, as all local records were destroyed in the fire.

Because the warehouse was sited in the middle of the ICI complex there was potential for escalation into a much more serious event. The incident clearly highlighted the value of having a well-defined emergency plan and procedures in place as well as trained personal to execute it.

Failings in technical measures

  • This fire incident generated large quantities of smoke. Although, in this case no CIMAH substance was involved and the smoke was determined to be non-toxic, risk assessments should consider the effects of toxic smoke affecting the surrounding public.
  • Emergency Response / Spill Control: site emergency plan and evacuation plan
  • Plant Layout: domino effects
  • The fire was at an advanced stage before being detected by the fire protection system. No record could establish precisely which alarm initiated the fire alarm. Sprinkler systems should be considered in situations where early fire detection cannot be guaranteed.
  • Active / Passive Fire Protection: water deluge adequate cover
  • Prior to this incident there have been a number of major fires in which light fittings have been the source of ignition or in which they have contributed to the spread of the fire. Such fittings should be assessed to determine their potential fire hazard. The warehouse was also fitted with plastic roof lights, which contributed to the spread of the fire along with bitumen coated steel roof sheets.
  • Active / Passive Fire Protection: fire testing of materials


'Detectors failed to operate in BASF fire', Fire Prevention, Issue 288, April 1996, p5, Fire Protection Association, ISSN 0309-6866.

'Propylene Warehouse Fire At BASF Wilton', Loss Prevention Bulletin, Issue No. 132, Dec 1996, pp9-11, Institution of Chemical Engineers, ISSN 0260-9576.

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