Workers fled from a Doncaster factory yesterday as flames erupted from a tower containing toxic and explosive chemicals.
But more than 30 firefighters prevented tanks containing 120,000 litres of a volatile chemical blowing up at the Bawtry Carbon International works in Austerfield.
Residents living on the village High Street were woken just after 6am by the sound of the factory alarm siren going, and saw dozens of workers on the night shift leaving the factory, which manufactures furnace lining refractory bricks.
Retired factory worker Keith Stringer, aged 57, who lives opposite the building, said: “I could see all the workers coming down to the evacuation area and when I looked up at one of the towers I could see a flash. I think about 25 blokes came out, I don’t think there were any casualties.
“At one stage the flames were going 20 to 30ft into the air above the tower, which I think they use for smelting.”
The tower is understood to be where furnace blocks are pressed into shape. It has been so badly damaged that fire investigators said it was unsafe to enter and it may need to be demolished.
Mr Stringer added: “I think it was burning about an hour-and-a-half before it seemed to be under control. At one stage it seemed to get worse and just erupted. There were a couple of quite loud bangs.”
Residents said the bangs were not as loud as a more serious fire they recalled at the works, formerly known as GR Stein and Vesuvius, in the 1980s.
Police closed all roads into Austerfield for more than two hours as seven fire appliances from South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire brigades blocked the High Street and entered the factory compound.
Traffic from Bawtry was diverted through Misson and Blaxton and High Common Lane was also blocked off for a time.
Ambulances were also on standby in case of casualties among the firefighters, and men from National Grid were also preparing to enter the site to check for damage to utilities.
The fire incident commander, Group Manager Mick Mason, said the fire involved oil pitch in the tower but said there had been no explosion.
The crews were concerned about the possible danger from tanks containing dinitrotoluene and two acetylene cylinders.
“We had three priorities, to make sure the 120,000 litres of DNT did not explode by protecting it from fire, to remove the cylinders, and to protect an asbestos building from fire.
“By the time we arrived the premises had been evacuated, and there have been no injuries. At the moment the cause of the fire is still under investigation but we believe it to be accidental.”
It is believed DNT is used in the manufacture of furnace bricks to make them more heat resistant. The chemical is carcinogenic and toxic.
Fire officers were made aware of what chemicals were stored at the factory before they arrived at the scene.
Management at Bawtry Carbon International were unavailable to comment yesterday afternoon on the fire.