Firefighters praised for 'extreme and exceptional' efforts tackling four day long fire in Birtley

Firefighters tackle the fire that raged for four days. Credit: Tyne and Wear Fire Service

Firefighters who extinguished a giant blaze at a recycling plant in Gateshead have been hailed for their "extreme and exceptional" efforts through remarkable dangers.

A massive fire raged for four days at Shee Recycling in Birtley last week, prompting the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) to declare a major incident.

Nearby roads and the East Coast Main Line had to be shut down, and locals were urged to keep their doors and windows closed as huge plumes of black smoke billowed from the site.

It had already been closed last September after being deemed a serious fire risk , and is subject to an ongoing investigation by the Environment Agency.

Gateshead councillor Gary Haley has warned that there may be ongoing consequences for the nearby public's health - with an investigation having been launched into whether asbestos-containing materials were disturbed during the blaze.

More than 60 firefighters had to be dispatched to the scene in Durham Road in a desperate bid to get the intense blaze under control, while drones and thermal imaging cameras also had to be used to assess the scale of the threat.

Councillors were told on Monday morning of the incredible dangers they faced inside the plant, with "explosions going off regularly" caused by gas cylinders and other materials stored at the facility.

Peter Heath, TWFRS' deputy chief fire officer, praised the "fantastic" effort of all staff and said no injuries had been reported despite the major risks.

He told the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority that firefighters had performed "extreme and exceptional" work, adding: "The work that they've done and the effort that they put in was not a surprise in any measure, but is worthy of recognition."

Councillor Haley added: "I know how significant it was and how much impact there would have been in terms of working through the night and to that level of intensity.

"It does point to how resilient this fire service is that we didn't require support from other fire services.

"While the fire might be out, the consequences and the impact on the community beyond that will go on for quite some time."

Northumbria Police last week arrested a 19-year-old man on suspicion of arson, who has now been released under investigation, and say that their enquiries are ongoing.