INVESTIGATIONS are under way into the cause of a massive blaze that ripped through a warehouse at an industrial estate – sending a huge plume of smoke into the air, which was visible for miles around.
The ArrowXL building on the Blackpole East industrial estate, off Cotswold Way, was engulfed by fire at about 8.30am yesterday.
Seventy firefighters from 14 stations including Malvern, Ledbury Ross-on-Wye and Shropshire rushed to the scene and worked for several hours to bring the flames under control.
The ambulance service attended, however all members of staff were safely evacuated and at the time of going to press, no injuries had been reported.
Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service (HWFRS) said a fire investigation will take place at the 200,000sq ft building.
Ian Howell, chief executive of the specialist delivery company, said: "It is too early to say how much damage has been caused or what caused it.
"I am pleased to report that all staff are safe and well.
"We have a contingency plan in place which we are just finalising, our top priority is our staff's safety and welfare, and our second priority is to continue serving our clients.
"Deliveries across the Midlands region have naturally been affected by this major incident which acts as the regional hub for the ArrowXL business.
"It is far to early to speculate about the value of stock destroyed in today’s incident, however the company has insurance in place for client retailer and customer stock and the insurers and loss adjusters will be on site today (Thursday)."
Staff members, along with employees from neighbouring businesses which were also evacuated, watched in awe as the flames raged on Thursday morning.
Alan Bodily, of ArrowXL, said: "At first we thought it was a drill, we were all just on our tea break, we did not realise how serious it was until a few minutes later.
"Some staff have their car keys and other important items in the lockers so they cannot move their cars away from the fire.
"All we have heard is that the fire started in the flatpack (furniture) isle."
Charlie Shiels, chief operating officer at ArrowXL said: "It is disastrous for the business but the most important thing is that everyone is safe.
"Some staff have been working here 20 years and they are understandably shocked by what has happened."
Steve Bury, managing director of Bury Associates, works next door to ArrowXL and said: "The flames were shooting out of the building, 30-40ft high out of the roof. Then it was just thick, flowing black smoke wherever you looked."
Emi Baker, aged 27, from Worcester, works at OnSite in Blackpole Road, close to ArrowXL.
She said: "There was huge amounts of black, billowing smoke and you could see bits of ash coming from it as well.
"I walked round to the other industrial estate. We could see flames licking the sky."
The emergency services advised members of the public to avoid the area and to keep their windows closed.
Contaminated fire water entered Barbourne Brook after the blaze, killing fish and the Environment Agency staff were working with the fire service to prevent further damage.
Dave Throup, Environment Agency manager for Herefordshire and Worcestershire, said: "The main concern with any major fire is that contaminated fire water can enter local water sources.
"The fire service obviously use a lot of water to put out fires, which mix with all sorts of chemicals and can cause a lot of damage.
"Unfortunately some contaminated water got into the Barbourne Brook and killed fish."
Dr James Chipwete, consultant with Public Health England West Midlands, said: "So far, there have been no reports of any people experiencing ill effects from this fire.
"The fire and rescue service is on-site dealing with the fire and the other agencies involved will continue to monitor the situation and issue advice to the public, businesses and organisations affected as necessary."
Resident Gillian Bullock also reported that a bit of ash had fallen in her garden, near Warndon Tesco.
Sainsbury's and The Salvation Army nearby attended to provide emergency services at the scene with refreshments.
ArrowXL, which has been in Worcester since 1994, will transfer its operations to another site.
Around 150 to 200 staff are based at the building and handle deliveries for Midlands and South West, the business has four hubs across the country.