Fire service reveal cause of Tunbridge Wells tip fire

Huge plumes of smoke from the North Farm blaze captured by Jason Hansford

Huge plumes of smoke from the North Farm blaze captured by Jason Hansford

The biggest and most disruptive blaze Tunbridge Wells has seen for years started by itself, investigators have revealed.

Gigantic flames ripped through a building at North Farm Recycling Centre and transfer station in North Farm Industrial Estate early on Saturday morning.

Firefighters who arrived in three engines battled a 200 square metre area of burning carpets and mattresses at the dump off Dowding Way.

Towering plumes of thick dark smoke made for a dramatic skyline in Tunbridge Wells for some hours with firefighters getting the inferno under control just after 3pm. People in businesses and homes nearby were advised to keep their windows and doors shut.

Drivers were stuck in traffic on one of the estate’s busiest days as Dowding Way was closed, with queues backing up along High Brooms Road and on other routes.

Kent County Council said the cause of the fire in the “bulky waste bay” was an accident. The site is still closed and the council said it was too soon to say when it would reopen.

Kent Fire and Rescue Service said the fire had started because of “spontaneous burning” which is when compacted materials self heat and become so hot they catch alight.

The council spokesman said assessment of the damage to the building’s structure was ongoing.

He said it was also too early to say the cost of the damage and the extent of the work to bring the building back in to use.

“A full structural survey is being carried out. If the survey is good our aim is to take remedial actions to make the site and operation safe – this will allow a partial re-opening – but timescales are not known at the moment,” he added.

The transfer station where the blaze was is on the same site as the public-access Tunbridge Wells Household Waste Recycling Centre. It is used to bulk waste brought in by dustcarts operating for the council.

The fire service strongly ruled out any suggestion the fire had been started by a cigarette, as some had speculated on social media.

A spokesman said there was absolutely no sign this was the cause.

And the county council said: “There is no smoking permitted within the public areas – this is clearly signed – smoking is permitted within a designated area by the staff welfare facilities away from the Transfer Station and the Household Waste Recycling Centre.”

“There is no suggestion, nor evidence, that operatives smoke outside of this designated area.”