The blaze occurred in May 2001, as a consignment of 850,000 cigarette lighters confiscated by Customs & Excise was being disposed of at the landfill's tipping face for special waste. Customs officers were present to witness the incident.
The fire began when a forklift drove over containers of the lighters. It spread rapidly across some 400 square metres, engulfing other special wastes which had been tipped at the face, including paint, lubricating oil, aerosols and asbestos. The forklift was also destroyed in the fire.
A large plume of black smoke was visible from Bedford, some four miles away. A nearby road and railway were forced to close, and a local education centre had to be evacuated.
The flammable nature of the lighters was highlighted on both the waste consignment note and on Shanks' internal waste transfer note, with the additional instruction "do not trample" also given. However, instructions not to trample or drive over the lighters were not relayed to staff at the tipping face.
Although segregation of flammable loads was a practice carried out at the landfill, this was not deemed necessary in the case of the lighters. Had the load been segregated the area covered by the fire would have been smaller.
Landfilling of flammable wastes was banned last July under the EU landfill Directive.
Appearing before Bedford magistrates on 12 December, Shanks Waste Services pleaded guilty to disposing of controlled waste in a manner likely to harm the environment or human health, contrary to section 33(1)(c) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The company was ordered to pay costs of £3,894.
The case brought the total fines incurred by the Shanks group to £89,000 for the year. It was fined £60,000 in January for a series of offences at its Newton Longville landfill, and another £12,000 in June for a land spreading offence. A third fine of £2,000 followed _in November for breaches of licence _conditions relating to waste storage at Shanks' transfer station in Narberth, south-west Wales (ENDS Report 334, _p 56 ).