London Fire Brigade

LFB 150 - Remembering the Zotefoams factory fire 2000

22 October 2016

As we celebrate our 150th anniversary we're looking back at some of the most significant and some of the more unusual incidents that have taken place since we were formed in 1866.

Sixteen years ago on 22 October 2000, 50 foot flames gutted the Zotefoams factory, in Beddington, causing millions of pounds worth of damage.

Flames higher than houses

The first call reporting the fire came at 2.35pm and subsequently, there were another 110 calls from residents and people who could see the huge blaze.

Angie Williams, of neighbouring Saffron Close, said: "I looked out of the window and saw flames higher than the houses with black, billowing smoke."

Thirty fire engines and 150 firefighters battled to bring the blaze under control at the one-storey factory with the help of thermal imaging cameras.

By the time the fire died down around 7.45pm, 30 per cent of the building was destroyed and huge stacks of polyurethane were completely burnt to the ground.

A rapidly developing fire

Fortunately, as it was a Sunday, there weren’t any workers in the building and no-one was seriously hurt in the blaze.

A Brigade spokesperson said: "This was one of the biggest fires in London; a very intense fire which rapidly developed with a high level of smoke."

The main concern with residents was whether the smoke was toxic.

Zotefoams’ Mike Lewsey, marketing and sales director at that time, said their manufacturing area was "largely intact" and they didn't "use toxic chemicals on site."

The self-combusting granules

The Brigade’s fire investigation team trawled through CCTV footage taken at Zotefoams as well as other evidence but ruled out foul play three months later.

However the cause of the fire was rather unusual.

From the CCTV footage and scientific investigation, it was determined that the waste polythene granules produced by Zotefoams had self-heating properties.

Bags of these granules had slowly heated up over a period of time, resulting in the fire.