A massive fire yesterday ripped through an air conditioning factory on the outskirts of Leeds, sending plumes of smoke hundreds of feet into the air and triggering road closures which caused traffic chaos.
At its peak 20 fire engines and 100 firefighters battled the blaze which devastated a three-storey warehouse building at Airedale International Air Conditioning on Leeds Road.
Thick black smoke could be seen for miles around as the crews struggled to stop the inferno spreading through the factory. No one was injured and the premises were evacuated shortly after the fire broke out at about 2.50pm.
Witnesses described seeing many workers in tears as they watched helplessly from the main road as their workplace went up in flames. The A65 Leeds Road was closed by police to allow the fire crews the space to tackle the fire, using water pumped from the canal at Calverley.
Speaking at the scene, incident commander Assistant Chief Fire Officer Dave Walton told the Yorkshire Post it “quickly developed into a very serious fire”.
He said: “From a West Yorkshire Fire Service perspective, this is a significant incident involving a large factory complex. Fortunately there are no buildings immediately surrounding it so we are able to tackle the fire and contain it to the single units that are on fire at the moment.
“A full evacuation has taken place; however at the moment we are keeping residents in place.”
He said his team had “battled very hard to save as much of the building” as possible, adding: “Unfortunately due to both the structure and the contents of the building, the fire has spread very quickly through the building. We have plentiful water supply and our guys and girls of the West Yorkshire Fire Service are working really hard.”
Louise Watson, who lives next to the factory, works nearby at Woodhouse Grove School and said her daughters came to tell her about the fire. She said: “We came home and said ‘Oh, my God’. As we walked home and we had to put something over our mouths – we couldn’t have walked along the path otherwise. I’ve been down [to the house] and it’s just horrendous inside, with all the smoke.”
Watching the drama unfold from the main road, she said: “At times you can’t see my house. My two girls are quite worried. They’ve packed a bag ready in case we need to be evacuated. The smoke’s just funnelling down to the bottom by the river.”
Olive Parry, 75, of Leeds Road, said she was thankful the wind was blowing the smoke away from her house. “It’s very scary. We spoke to some people who were in the office and they said they heard the fire alarm and all got out. People have been in tears here, who work there.
“Literally, men have been crying here saying their jobs have gone,” she said.
Airedale Air Conditioning has been in business for nearly 40 years and produces air conditioning units for blue-chip clients such as BT, BAE Systems, John Lewis and Disney.
A statement posted on its website said yesterday: “At around 2.30pm a fire was detected at the Airedale International Air Conditioning plant, Leeds Road, Rawdon. The building was evacuated immediately and all personnel were accounted for. The fire brigade arrived and are tending to the situation.”
As the Yorkshire Post went to press, 10 fire engines remained at the scene, but the fire was considered under control.