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Health advice 'too little, too late' Kronospan factory fire meeting told

By Sue Austin | Chirk | News | Published:

Health advice wasn’t given out to the people of Chirk early enough after the wood fire broke out at the town’s Kronospan factory this week, angry residents have said.

Councillor Gareth Baines published this image, which he says was supplied to him from the four-day fire at Chirk’s Kronospan

Advice to keep windows and doors closed came more than 24 hours after the blaze began, while air monitoring equipment arrived later in the week, a special meeting of Chirk Town Council was told on Thursday evening. Local people said the equipment had been installed three days too late.

It came as a dramatic image was published on Twitter by Councillor Gareth Baines, which he said had been supplied from the scene, showing firefighters in front of a wall of raw timber.

Children were kept inside at Chirk’s junior school again today, after low cloud and a change in wind direction led to a smell of smoke from the Kronospan wood fire overhead.

Firefighters left the fire on Thursday, four days after the fire in the huge timber pile began, with workers from the factory carrying on damping down the remains.

But smoke continues to issue from the huge wood pile.

Headmaster for Ysgol y Waun school, Mr John Roberts, in a message to parents said: “Low cloud/rain and a change in wind direction has produced a strong smell of wood smoke around school this morning. We are keeping pupils indoors today until the air clears.”

Thursday night's meeting was held to discuss the fire that broke out in a log pile on the site on Monday.

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The last North Wales Fire Service crew left the scene on Thursday evening although the company's own firefighters stayed overnight.

Firefighters tackle the blaze. Photo: Paul McNulty.

More than 70 members of the public attended the meeting to hear from representatives of the emergency services and health services, Wrexham Council, Public Health Wales, Natural Resources Wales and other agencies.

Residents told the meeting of having running eyes, sneezing and choking and struggling to breath because of the smoke on Monday, while Councillor Terry Evans said the stench of formaldehyde had been unbelievable.

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"I have been told that two children had to be taken to hospital," he said.

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Speaking at the meeting, Dr Huw Brunt from Public Health Wales, said the monitoring equipment that had been set up showed the concentrate of dust particulates had been above background levels, with short term peaks as the plume passed over the monitoring station.

"Small amounts of irritants including formaldehyde have been detected but we would expect that in anything that is burning," he said.

"From a public health perspective it is an improving situation and risks are reducing."

"Those with pre-existing respiratory problems are most at risk."

The fire could be seen from Chirk Castle. Picture: Councillor Gareth Baines.

Town Councillor Eleanor Burnham said she was very saddened by the lack of a quick response to warn people to shut doors and windows and for children to be kept inside at school.

“Common sense should have prevailed,” she said.

Phil Roberts, who lives in Maes y waun, said: "How easy would it have been to have a vehicle and a microphone go around the town warning people to stay indoors or to contact the schools to suggest the children be kept inside."

He added: "Things are getting so bad that my daughter is even thinking of leaving Chirk."

Resident Mrs Carole Jones said: “The last few days have been dreadful. I have been constantly sneezing and have had headaches.”

Apologised

Mike McKenna from Kronospan apologised to the meeting for the inconvenience the fire had caused and thanked the emergency services.

Mr McKenna said the fire had spread from a log wall of timber to wood shaving. But he said that none of the MDF produced by the factory had been involved.

He said dust monitoring was already in place for the factory.

“We are committed to Chirk and we have invested £200 million since 2015 into the site,” he said.

“We pay £1 million in business rates, £40,000 to Natural Resources Wales for our environmental permit and £18,000 to Wrexham Council for their permit.”

He said that the company had permission for an eight-metre-high stockpile but said that there had been a concession leading up to Christmas and New Year for a larger stockpile to allow work to continue while sawmills were closed.

Councillors said that monitoring equipment must remain in Chirk on a regular basis.

Transparent

Ian Poole from Wrexham Council said that talks were already taking place to have monitoring equipment at the schools.

The meeting was also told that there had been no run off into water courses from the fire, while Sally Bottomley from Welsh Ambulance said it had had not increase in calls to the area.

The MP for Chirk says he wants to see the investigation into the fire at Kronospan conducted in an open an transparent manner.

Simon Baynes, MP for Clwyd South, who will meet residents in the town on Saturday, following a meeting with Wrexham Council today, also wants independent monitoring of noise and environmental emissions.

“I think it is vital that the planned investigation into the causes of the fire is conducted in an open and transparent manner," he said.

"We also need to continue the multi-agency approach and ensure that there is independent monitoring of noise and environmental emissions.

"We all want Kronospan to thrive as a business given the many benefits that it brings to Chirk and the surrounding area in terms of jobs, investment and prosperity and this will be best achieved by open and transparent communication between the company and the surrounding community.”

Mr is holding a walk-in surgery in the Parish Hall from 9am-5pm tomorrow.

Sue Austin

By Sue Austin
Chief Reporter

Chief reporter of the Oswestry/Mid Wales office. Keen to hear your news.

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