Cork Harbour fire was second at facility in past four months

Locals and environmental activists express concern after blaze at depot in Ringaskiddy

Eyewitness footage captures smoke rising from a fire at the Port of Cork. Video: @yaycork/Reuters

 

A large fire at a grain storage building in Cork Harbour that broke out on Saturday morning was the second fire at the facility in the past four months.

No one was injured in the latest blaze, but extensive damage was caused to the R&H Hall depot at the deepwater quay in Ringaskiddy which is used to store grain and animal feed imports for distribution around the country.

The company confirmed there had been a previous fire incident at the facility and a follow-up call-out. “We can confirm that there were two previous call-outs to the site, one of which was of a very minor nature and neither of which caused any significant disruption to operations,” said the R &H Hall spokesman.

According to Cork County Council, the material involved in the fire was “a natural, organic animal feed”, and the council sought to reassure the public that all operations in response to the fire were undertaken in a controlled manner.

Local residents and environmental campaigners have expressed concern after the blaze sent plumes of smoke billowing over Cork Harbour and surrounding areas for several hours.

Chairman of the Ringaskiddy and District Residents Association Braham Brennan called on both Cork County Council and the Port of Cork to review their notification system as local residents learned of Saturday’s fire from the media.

“We heard about the fire at the R&H Hall facility on the radio. We received no official notification from either Cork County Council or the Port of Cork even though they have all our numbers here in Ringaskiddy,” he said.

“It’s very worrying because if the wind was blowing the other way when the fire broke out on Saturday morning, everyone in the village would have been trapped because there’s only one way in and one way out of the village.”

A Port of Cork spokeswoman disputed suggestions the company had failed to notify Ringaskiddy residents and keep them briefed on the fire, pointing out that it was a local resident who first alerted the Port of Cork.

“Once the Port was fully briefed on the fire, the resident was called back and updated,” said the spokeswoman, adding that a member of the Ringaskiddy and District Residents Association was contacted and updated regularly.

Units dispatched

The Cork County Fire Service received notification of the fire at 8.43am on Saturday and dispatched units from Crosshaven and Carrigaline, as well as an aerial platform from Midleton.

They were later joined by firefighters from Cobh and an incident command unit from Bandon, with 32 personnel involved in battling the blaze, which they managed to bring under control and contain within the building in a few hours.

On-scene fire commander Chris Gledhill of Carrigaline fire station told The Irish Times that the fire was so severe that firefighters had to adopt a defensive position for several hours.

“The fire was well ablaze when we arrived at the scene so we could not commit firefighters to the building, which is huge, so we worked to contain it and managed to bring it under control,” he said.

Dust explosion

Mr Gledhill said that they had had concerns about the heat from the blaze causing a dust explosion, and such an explosion did occur, but it was contained within the structure of the building, even though the fire badly damaged the roof.

The fire service later committed firefighters equipped with breathing apparatus to fight the fire inside the building.

Cork County Council confirmed on Sunday a fire crew from Kinsale had remained at the scene overnight to monitor the situation, while crews from Carrigaline and Crosshaven were working to extinguish any hot spots at the site.

“There may be further fresh smoke from any flare-up as fire service crews remove panels from the structures to access hot spots,” said the council, adding that fire crews would remain onsite until the operation there is fully complete.

No injuries

Meanwhile, the Health and Safety Authority said that it had no role in any investigation in relation to the fire as it had received no report of any fatality or anyone being injured in the fire at the R&H Hall facility.

Investigations are under way into its cause.

A spokesman for R&H Hall confirmed that there are seven staff employed at the Ringaskiddy facility but no staff were present when the fire broke out.

A full assessment of the damage will be carried out which will also determine the site’s operational capacity, said the R&H Hall spokesman.

R&H Hall said that it had been liaising closely with both the emergency services and the Port of Cork following the outbreak of the fire on Saturday morning.

“We would like to thank the emergency services and the Port of Cork team for their quick response . . . We would also like to apologise to local residents, neighbouring businesses and our customers for any inconvenience caused,” it said.

The Port of Cork confirmed that it had suspended all ship activity at its deepwater berth at Ringaskiddy for several hours on Saturday while the emergency services dealt with the fire at the R&H Hall facility.

EPA role

Local councillor Marcia D’Alton has asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to examine figures from its monitoring station near Cobh which showed a rise in particulate matter on Saturday.

Ms D’Alton said the EPA has a number of air quality monitoring stations around Cork that showed a significant spike in particulate matter about 11pm on Saturday night.

“The data from Carrignafoy shows the particulate matter level starting to rise about 4pm on Saturday and it peaked at about 11pm, when it went to over 180 micrograms per cubic metre, which is higher than Cork city,” she said.

“It’s not normally so high, and while it may not be the case that all of that increase is due to the smoke from Ringaskiddy, it is highly likely that a significant portion of it [is] as it correlates with a change in wind direction.”

The EPA told The Irish Times it had no direct role in any investigation as the R&H Hall facility was not licensed by the EPA but by Cork County Council. It said it would assist in making air quality data available for any investigation.

Incinerator

Elsewhere environmental group Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment (CHASE) said the fire demonstrated that Ringaskiddy was not a suitable site for a proposed incinerator which would emit fumes.

The group, which has been campaigning for more than 20 years against a planned incinerator in the area, said the fire demonstrated the difficulty with the topography of Ringaskiddy and thermal inversions occurring in Cork Harbour.

According to a CHASE spokeswoman, the particular pattern of plumes drifting over the peninsula and later across the harbour towards Cobh resulting from the fire does not bode well for any incinerator being built on the Ringaskiddy peninsula.

Ringaskiddy was the scene of a massive fire more than 25 years ago when an explosion at the then Hicksons chemical plant led to a major emergency operation, including the evacuation of the plant.

Pressure built up in a vessel at the plant on August 5th, 1993, causing it to explode. Two staff suffered minor injuries in the explosion, but millions of euro worth of damage was caused and the plant closed for a period.