Egger suspends full production at Hexham, England, particleboard factory after May 26 blaze in biomass plant; investigators believe thermal oil ignited and ruptured a pipe

HEXHAM, U.K. , May 28, 2013 () – A FULL scale investigation has been launched into a huge blaze at one of Northumberland's biggest factories. Sixty firefighters from across the North East tackled the blaze at the Egger UK wood- product plant in Hexham.

Roads were closed and nearby care home residents evacuated as fire crews from seven stations in three counties tackled the incident.

As a full-scale investigation into the cause was launched, Egger management and police confirmed there had been no casualties.

It is believed the blaze, confined to the factory's heat- generating biomass plant, was caused by thermal oil igniting and rupturing a pipe.

As flames and a huge pall of smoke rose into the night sky at 10.30pm on Sunday, fire officers threw a 200-metre safety cordon around the plant.

Minor roads nearby were sealed off though the main A69 which passes the factory remained open.

Staff and patients at the 24-bed Chesterholme care home on Anick Road were moved to the furthest part of the complex to comply with the 200-metre exclusion zone.

Full production at the 500-employee factory was suspended until at least today, and possibly tomorrow, although some partial production was expected to resume last night.

Egger joint managing director Bob Livesey said: "We will be working with fire investigators to determine the exact cause of the incident, which is our first since the new plant opened in 2007.

"Thankfully there were no injuries, all of our detection and safety systems worked extremely well and the fire service was able to bring the fire safely under control.

"The intensity of the blaze was due to thermal oil used in the heating system catching fire and our engineers, together with colleagues from Germany, are working to assess the amount of damage and the cause of the fire."

Mr Livesey added: "I'm grateful to firefighters from Northumberland Fire and Rescue for their quick and professional response that meant damage was confined to that one small area of our site."

A Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said crews attended from stations at Hexham, Prudhoe, Allendale, Haltwhistle, Ponteland, Newcastle and Durham.

An aerial platform ladder was also brought in as evacuation procedures were put into action at Chesterholme care home.

Inspector Dave Balmer of Tynedale police said: "People at the care home were moved to a safe area as a precaution.

Part of the care home is within the 200-metre cordon and part of it is beyond the 200 metres, so everyone was moved into the furthest section.

"Initially the minor roads around the factory were shut but the A69 was kept open."

The blaze was finally extinguished at 1.30am before the cooling- down process began with regular checks throughout yesterday.

The last major fire at Egger in Hexham came in January 2002, when parts of the town had to be evacuated as 46 firefighters battled a blaze in a valve house close to large diesel oil stocks.

It was the last in a series of fires over the previous 20 months and raised concerns over safety, but since then fire security has been stepped up.

The family-owned, Austria-based business, which employs 7,000 people worldwide, has been in Hexham since 1984 as part of the international Egger Group. It is the largest manufacturing employer in Northumberland.

The plant produces a range of wood-based panels for the construction industry and melamine-faced chipboard for use in the construction industry.

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