Fire at Witney - advice for residents UPDATE 20 JUNE
We are liaising with T&B Motors, the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency, Public Health England and Oxfordshire County Council and have provided temporary accommodation and / or support to those evacuated as a result of the fire. We have also arranged for a specialist company to clean the outside areas. However, any smoke damage or cleaning inside properties should be dealt with by householders – please see ‘cleaning your property and insurance claims’ below.
Following the fire at T and B Motors, West End, Witney on Wednesday (13 June), specialist contractors are continuing to work in and around the site as the building contained asbestos cement roof tiles.
Large scale fires involving asbestos containing materials are relatively common in the UK. As long as appropriate clean-up procedures are followed, there is no significant public health risk resulting from asbestos exposures.
An appropriate clean-up of the site and vicinity started as soon as it was safe to do so on Wednesday afternoon.
Dust and air monitoring
Air and dust monitoring tests taken inside nearby homes have come back negative for asbestos. However, there is still the risk that debris on the ground outside properties may contain asbestos and this is being cleaned by specialist contractors. Air monitoring is continuing as work progresses.
Please note, in the UK, small quantities of asbestos are always present in the air we breathe. If you breathed in dust during the fire and clean-up it is likely to be a relatively small amount compared to what you breathe in naturally over your life time so should not significantly affect your health.
The areas most affected
From the wind direction and size of the blaze, fire investigation officers determined the area that was at the highest risk from asbestos contamination. This relatively small area around ‘the green’ on Farmers Close has been cordoned off whilst the extent of the contamination is investigated further. A clean-up has been underway by specialist contractors since the day of the fire (13 June).
Our housing team has been working closely with the seven households who were evacuated on Farmers Close as a precautionary measure.
All but one household were notified they could return to their homes on Saturday. This property, closest to the fire and indirect line of the smoke plumage, will need to undergo specialist cleaning before reoccupation.
A cleaning company has been on site since the incident and are working their way around the properties that have debris in their gardens.
Cleaning your own property and insurance claims
If you feel your property needs heavy duty specialist cleaning after the fire, you will need to either:
- Call your home insurers to claim. If you need T&B Motors insurance details please contact us; or
- Arrange this yourself. If you are in rented property, please speak to your landlord to determine who is responsible.
If you are having clean-up work done on your property:
- Keep external doors and windows closed
- Avoid unnecessary outdoor activity and do not put washing out on clothes lines
- Do not let children play outside
If you have any concerns please call us on 01993 861000.
Frequently asked questions
My garden hasn’t been cleared – what is happening?
It is hoped that all gardens will have been cleared by specialist contractors by the end of this week.
What is happening on the area known as ‘the green’?
The green was affected by debris from the fire and so has been fenced off while the Health and Safety Executive investigate what needs to be done to make it safe and bring it back into use. No attempt should be made to climb the fence to access the site.
My bins were emptied today and the crew were wearing masks - why was this?
This is the first time the bins have been emptied since the fire and there is a risk that material cleared from gardens and drives potentially containing fire debris will have been placed in them. As a result, operatives are wearing masks as a precaution while emptying the bins into the lorry.
Why did it take so long to send a letter explaining what is going on?
Properties directly affected by the fire were contacted by letter delivered on the day of the incident. Council officials also spoke to concerned individuals in person. A second letter was issued the following day to residents across a wider area who may have seen some debris near their properties to offer advice and information. A third letter was sent on Monday to about 170 homes in the area. This website was also updated daily. Anyone with ongoing concerns should call 01993 861000.
Why is T&B Motors continuing to operate?
Site clearance is continuing under supervision from the Health and Safety Executive. There is no risk to the public from this activity.
Why hasn’t the Health and Safety Executive been involved sooner?
The HSE along with Public Health England and the Environment Agency have been involved throughout as part of a multi-agency approach to ensure the area is safe.
More information from Public Health England (PHE)
What are the health risks associated with asbestos?
During the fire visible fragments of asbestos may have been carried in the smoke plume and been deposited on nearby properties, gardens and streets. The majority of asbestos fibres are held tightly within the asbestos containing material and will not be released into the air - this minimises the health risk. However, if this material is handled, crumbles or broken up then the fibres may be released into the air. It is only breathing in asbestos fibres that present a health risk. For this reason it is best not to handle the fragments yourself in case they break up in the process, but to leave this to specialists.
If there is no risk from the debris, why do the clean-up teams wear full protective clothing?
The specially trained contractors are exposed to the potential asbestos dust for great lengths of time during the clean-up. They wear protective equipment, such as dust masks and overalls, to minimise any potential intake of asbestos.
I need to clean away debris and dust urgently, for example to use my car, what should I do?
If it is absolutely necessary for you to move or remove debris yourself (eg from a car windscreen) you should first gently damp down the debris using water and use a dampened cloth to wipe away debris. Wearing protective gloves, pick up larger pieces carefully. Place all debris, used dampened cloths and larger pieces within two plastic bags (one within the other, ie double bagged), seal all bags and either:
- Take it to Dix Pit (for more information see Oxfordshire County Councils website); or
- Or call us if you are unable to take it to Dix Pit or for further advice – 01993 861000.
I have accidentally trodden on some asbestos containing material, which got on my shoes and it is now in my carpet, what should I do?
The carpet will need to be cleaned by specialists. Do not attempt to sweep or vacuum up the debris as this will only create or spread any dust. Your house contents insurer may be able to assist with cost (see insurance claims above).
I have some dust and debris from the fire on my clothing, what should I do?
If the clothing was drying in the garden at the time of the fire then as a precaution it should be rewashed in a washing machine (or hand-washed in lukewarm water for at least 10-15 minutes) to remove any trace of asbestos fibres.
Will I still be able to eat fruit and vegetables from my garden/allotment?
If there is evidence of debris in your garden or allotment avoid disturbing the material, for example by gardening or digging up garden produce, until it has been cleared up and removed. It is only breathing in asbestos fibres that present a health risk. If any fruits and vegetables in the garden have been covered by dust or soot from the fire it would be advisable to wash them thoroughly and peel them before they are eaten. The Food Standards Agency will be able to provide further advice on food safety.
I have heard breathing in asbestos can cause cancer, can you tell me more in relation to this fire?
It is important to reiterate that asbestos fibres are not released into the air unless the asbestos containing material is severely damaged or mishandled. This is why it is important to not handle the asbestos containing material from the fire yourself and to let any debris be removed by those that have been trained to do so.
To encounter any long term health effects from asbestos, a direct exposure by inhaling asbestos fibres would have needed to have taken place over a long period of time.
However if you any concerns please call your doctor or NHS 111.