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Four dead in UK wood mill explosion

20 July 2015

On July 17, a series of explosions and a fire at Wood Flour Mills in Bosley, Cheshire, destroyed much of the site, according to firefighters. One body was recovered on July 19, and three other missing workers are also feared to have died. A number of their colleagues were injured in the incident, with others left homeless as the fire spread to homes nearby.

Stock image
Stock image

A total of 35 casualties were assessed at the scene with four taken to hospital. One was airlifted to Birmingham with serious burns and blast injuries, two to a specialist trauma unit in Stoke and a fourth was taken to Whiston hospital, Merseyside.

The plant, which made linoleum products out of wood ground down to a powder or flour, has been producing wood flour since 1930 and is the sole manufacturer in the UK. No statement has yet been made by the owner of the mill, Wood Treatment Ltd, part of the Boden Group.

There were earlier fires on the site in 2010 and 2012, and enforcement officers called at the wood mill two weeks earlier, with the local council confirming that the company had complied with its enforcement officers.

Michael Jones, the leader of Cheshire East council, told a press conference: “We were on site two weeks ago clearing it up and they did well to clear it up. We will produce that evidence as and when necessary.” The council would be passing on details of past complaints and incidents at the site to investigators, he said.

Jones said the mill had been the subject of complaints relating to dust, noise and pollution.
Cheshire police said a joint investigation with the Health and Safety Executive would begin once the search phase had been completed. Sniffer dogs had located the likely locations of the missing workers, he said, and fire crews were working in a hazardous environment in which one or two small pockets of fire continued to burn in isolated voids.

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service said the search was being concentrated on two specific areas where silos had been packed with wood flour. They described the scene as "one of complete devastation" after the explosion and fire reduced the four-storey building to rubble.

A one-mile cordon remains in place around the site, with acetylene and liquid gas cylinders and 5,000 litres of kerosene in the wreckage. The four-storey building was completely destroyed in the incident, which started with a several large explosions and was followed by a fire with flames 70 metres high, according to local sources.

Update: On July 27, Cheshire Police said the remains of the fourth and final missing person were removed from the ruins of the mill and taken to Royal Liverpool Hospital for a post-mortem examination.

Temperatures reached 1,000C in the blast at the Bosley mill and it was described by rescuers as the "worst incident of its kind" in a decade.

An investigation into the causes of the incident continues.

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