The 5 worst industrial fires you’ve never heard of

iStock_000001060494SmallFire – man’s oldest friend… and occasionally his deadliest adversary. While fire statistics show that the incidences of industrial fires are broadly in decline, when they do strike the results are often devastating. While many of the fires that happen in the UK are well documented, international disasters often don’t get the media coverage they deserve. In this post we take a quick look at some of the worst industrial fires from around the world – how many have you heard of before?

1. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, America

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire took place in Manhattan, New York City on March 25 1911, and was one of the

March 25, 1911 First published on front page of The New York World 1911-03-26
March 25, 1911 First published on front page of The New York World 1911-03-26

deadliest industrial disasters in the history of the city. The fire, which began in a scrap bin, resulted in the deaths of 146 garment workers – the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. As a direct result of the fire, the American Society of Safety Engineers (one of the world’s oldest safety societies) was founded in New York City on October 14, 1911.

2. Enschede Fireworks Disaster, Netherlands

On 13 May 2000, a fire began in the central building of a fireworks factory in the Dutch city of Enschede. The fire spread to two full containers that had been stored illegally outside the building, causing the explosion of 177 tons of fireworks, the biggest blast of which was felt up to 30 kilometres from the scene. The fire killed 23 people and injured 947. Around 400 houses were destroyed and a total of 1,500 homes were damaged – leading to 10,000 people being evacuated. Damages caused by the disaster eventually exceeded €450 million.

3. Kader Toy Factory fire, Thailand

The Kader Toy Factory fire, which occurred on 10 May 1993 at a toy factory in Bangkok, is considered the worst industrial factory fire in history, with 188 people killed, and over 500 seriously injured. Initially starting as a small fire on the first floor, the poor design of the building and a lack of fire escapes meant the fire quickly turned into a tragedy. Despite the scale of the incident, the incident received little media attention outside of Thailand.

The SS High Flyer or SS Wilson B. Keene, three days after the explosion. Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries.
The SS High Flyer or SS Wilson B. Keene, three days after the explosion. Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries.

4. Texas City Disaster, America

The Texas City disaster of April 16 1947, was the deadliest industrial accident in American history. Originally starting as a fire on a French ship that was docked in the Port of Texas City, it quickly spread, detonating the ship’s cargo of ammonium nitrate. This explosion triggered a deadly chain-reaction of fires and explosions on nearby ships and oil-storage facilities, causing at least 581 deaths and all but wiping out the Texas City fire department. The disaster triggered the first ever class action lawsuit against the United States government.

5. Heyope Tyre Fire, Wales

While this disaster caused no fatalities, it makes the list for the record-breaking amount of time the fire burned for – an astonishing 15 years! Started by arsonists at a tyre dump in Heyope, near Powys, Wales in 1989, the fire spread to involve all 10 million tyres at the dump. Being so densely packed together, firefighters were unable to extinguish the blaze, which smouldered under the surface of the dump until 2004.

Lasting impact

While large scale disasters such as these are thankfully rare, they leave lessons for all of us working to prevent such tragedies from happening again. If you are concerned about the risk fire poses to your organisation, RoSPA now offers the NEBOSH Fire Certificate. Ideal for managers, supervisors or employees who need to ensure that their organisation meets its legal responsibilities, it has been sat by over 6,500 people worldwide. More importantly, it educates your employees about the risk fire presents to every workplace – helping to protect your workers and their families from the heartache and devastation fire can cause.

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