A huge plume of black smoke is billowing over the rooftops of Royal Leamington Spa, with residents describing a chemical smell after hearing small explosions when the fire caught hold in an industrial estate.
A specialist hazard response unit is at the scene, and people have been evacuated over fears of toxic smoke from the fire which broke out on Aug. 27 on Juno Drive.
That short street is also home to the UK’s first COVID-testing mega-lab, which is the centre-piece of the government’s efforts to identify new variants of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as the novel coronavirus.
Reports, however, suggest that the blaze is at a nearby plastics factory.
Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service said they received a call at 10:30 a.m. on Friday to what they called a “significant” fire.
“Properties in the vicinity are being evacuated. If you live within 70 metres (230 feet) of the site, please keep windows and doors closed,” said Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service in an update on Twitter.
They have asked people not to go within 100 metres (330 feet) of the fire.
Local Labour MP Matt Western said he has heard the fire may involve chemicals from a plastics business unit.
“The factory fire in Juno Drive has shaken Leamington to its core,” he wrote on Twitter at 1 p.m. about three hours after the fire had started. “The scale of the blaze is staggering. I’ve spoken with police and fire chiefs who are increasingly confident of containing it. Please adhere to guidance.”
The factory fire in Juno Drive has shaken Leamington to its core.
The scale of the blaze is staggering.
I’ve spoken with police and fire chiefs who are increasingly confident of containing it.
Please adhere to guidance. Keep 70m+ away and keep doors and windows closed. pic.twitter.com/DPrIAyi3bi
— Matt Western MP 💙 (@MattWestern_) August 27, 2021
Leamington Spa resident Anne Harrington-Ridley told the BBC said she kept hearing “small explosions.”
She was walking to work nearby she “kept hearing small explosions.”
“I saw a little plume of smoke and thought it might be the allotments but it quickly got a lot darker and a lot bigger in the space of about two minutes,” she said. “You could see the massive plume of smoke, there was fire, explosions, all sorts of things.”
According to the Leamington Observer, it is not known whether the COVID mega-lab is involved in the blaze. The Rosalind Franklin laboratory is able to process hundreds of thousands of virus samples every day to rapidly detect new variants, according to the government.
It isn’t the first time that a natural disaster has threatened a key facility set up to tackle the pandemic.
Storm floods threatened a key production site of the Oxford/AstraZeneca in January, just as the UK began one of the world’s first vaccine rollout programs.
Local authorities worked through the night in holding off floods at an industrial site in Wrexham where the nationwide supply of the vaccine is put in vials.