Investigation of major industrial fires in Satakunta in January 2017 completed – room for improvement in industrial fire safety

Published 22.9.2017

There were two major industrial fires in the Finnish region of Satakunta in late January 2017. A fire broke out in Pomarkku, on 26 January, on the storage yard of a factory specialising in plastic recycling; and in Pori on 30 January in a colour pigment or titanium dioxide factory.

Both fires were large and required major use of rescue service resources. Active extinguishing measures lasted 9 hours in Pomarkku and 20 hours in Pori. A large amount of recyclable plastic burned in the yard in Pomarkku. In Pori, the extensive roof and process pipelines of the titanium dioxide plant were burnt in particular. The financial damage amounted to tens of millions of euros in the Pori fire, while the value of materials burned in Pomarkku amounted to a few thousand euros. Three fire fighters were slightly injured during the extinguishing operation in Pomarkku and one was slightly injured in Pori.

The Safety Investigation Authority makes four safety recommendations for the improvement of industrial fire safety and the prevention of similar accidents.

The Safety Investigation Authority recommends that, together with the Rescue Department, the Ministry of the Interior ensure that, in their rescue planning, industrial premises prepare for fires identified as longer-lasting or more extensive, or other dangerous situations of this kind.

In their rescue plans, neither industrial plant had prepared for extensive, long-lasting incidents requiring special management measures, cooperation, a range of preparations and, for example, the arrangement of replacement personnel and maintenance.

Secondly, the Safety Investigation Authority recommends that the Rescue Departments’ partner network plan arrangements based on which the use of foam as an extinguishing agent is always fast and thorough, and ask the rescue departments to implement such arrangements.

Water is the primary extinguishing agent in rescue operations, but water is not very suitable for extinguishing burning liquids. Upon melting, plastic also causes liquid fires, as occurred in Pomarkku. Strong preparedness to use foam is required in such situations. The need to use foam should be identified as soon as possible and the foam should be fired quickly, based on a simple command.

The fire spread along the rooftop pipeline at the titanium dioxide plant in Pori

The Safety Investigation Authority also recommends that the Ministry of the Environment supplement the instructions included in the fire safety regulations for buildings, which stipulate that the principles of fire compartmentalisation also apply to external pipelines and other installations.

Plastic pipelines were running along the roof of the titanium dioxide plant in Pori and the fire spread rapidly along them. Burning plastic fell from the pipelines onto the roofing material, which caught fire.

- According to the building regulations, the danger of fire and smoke spreading through a building should not be significantly increased due to technical installations. This requirement was not followed in the titanium dioxide plant in Pori. Pipelines are not always considered part of a building and building permits are not necessarily sought for them. Pipelines may have been built across fire compartmentalisation boundaries in many places, without fire seals, which enables fire to spread rapidly, states Chief Safety Investigator Kai Valonen

In addition, the Safety Investigation Authority recommends that the Finnish Plastics Industries Federation perform or commission a report charting the fire risks associated with plastic recycling and provide the recycling sector with information and good practices to prevent ignition and large fires.

Further information:
Chief Safety Investigator Kai Valonen, tel. +358 (0) 295 150 707 (Twitter: @KValonen)