Essex Food Factory Burns To The Ground

The fire brigade attending the River Way fire

By Iain Cox, Chair of the Business Sprinkler Alliance.

An early morning blaze at an industrial site in Harlow destroyed the production facilities of a local food manufacturer. The devastating fire swept through an unsprinklered sausage factory, sending plumes of orange smoke across the town, with the long-established business now counting the cost of the damage and dealing with the disruption to their livelihoods.

Essex Fire and Rescue Service was called to the fire on April 26th when it broke out at the Riverway Food production facility during the night shift. On arrival, the factory was 95% alight and 100% smoke logged which limited access. The blaze required 70 firefighters, 10 appliances and specialist equipment including aerial ladder platforms. It took 36 hours before fire crews could hand the site over to security staff. Fire crews were forced to return to the site four days later due to reports of smoke and a hot spot from an unstable part of the damaged building.

While night shift workers escaped unharmed, considerable resources were used by the fire and rescue service to control the fire. The impact on the local community and environment was significant with local road closures, residents forced to keep their windows and doors closed due to harmful smoke and a number of measures employed to minimise the impact of pollution to the local environment.

The disposal of the destroyed 2500m2 building will cause an adverse environmental impact, while the materials and resources required to repair and rebuild it will incur significant financial costs.

In business for over 50 years, the local family-run food concern employed over 130 workers, who like the company, face an uncertain future. Riverway Foods will need to recover from the effects of the blaze. In the worst case scenario, the effect of the fire is the closure of the business.

It is interesting to note that this fire took place in a modestly-sized building, which the company referenced on their website as being a ‘21st century factory’ that was purpose built with the latest technology. The fire service worked hard to protect surrounding properties yet the intervention of 70 firefighters could not stop the fire in a building of this size. Industrial fires impact far larger premises with similar results and with potentially larger impacts.

We must always be thankful when a fire is contained and extinguished with no loss of life, but it is not enough. Lives are still affected regardless, and we must strive to minimise the effect that fire has in all circumstances. When we minimise fire spread we not only protect lives, we protect property, businesses and jobs. A properly controlled fire can be the difference between a building requiring renovation or demolition. Halting the spread of fire when it is first detected is the best way to limit damage and minimise costs and impacts. Sprinklers have been shown to contain, control or extinguish fires in 99% of cases1. The impacted business can be operational within hours, avoiding the economic and social costs.

For more information about the BSA visit the

1: Efficiency and Effectiveness of Sprinkler Systems in the United Kingdom: An Analysis from Fire Service Data – Optimal Economics May 2017

Image credit: Essex Fire and Rescue