Discarded batteries likely cause of Portsmouth waste recycling site fire

Lithium batteries are believed to be responsible for a fire that broke out at a large waste processing unit in Portsmouth on Saturday 6 July 2024.

As reported by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service (HIWFRS), the blaze broke out in the early hours of the morning at TJ Waste & Recycling on Tipner Lane, with 40 firefighters dispatched to the scene. The unit, which stretches across two floors, contained 117 tonnes of domestic material. HIWFRS confirmed the waste material had been “completely consumed by the fire”.

HIWFRS initially warned motorists to be vigilant and avoid the area if possible as large plumes of smoke could be seen travelling across the M275. However, the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Constabulary and the Hampshire Roads Policing Unit eventually took the decision to close the M275 due to the amount of “thick, black smoke”.

As reported by BBC News, a police spokesperson said: "We appreciate this may be frustrating but the safety of people using the road is our top priority and the smoke has been deemed too thick for the safe use of the M275 at the current time.

"We expect the closures to be in place until tomorrow [Sunday] and will keep you updated. We continue asking people to please avoid the area and make alternative travel arrangements while the incident is dealt with."

HIWFRS crews utilised a high-volume pumping unit, high pressure jets, positive pressure ventilation systems, and polybooms to tackle the blaze, with a spokesperson adding:

We utilised the site’s proximity to pump seawater for firefighting. Multiple fire appliances were deployed to the scene which was instrumental in gaining control over the fire. As part of our environmental protection strategy, we implemented measures to prevent water runoff from reaching the sea.”

Crews were eventually able to bring the blaze under control by late afternoon, with a stop message issued at 5pm.

A spokesperson for TJ Waste & Recycling confirmed that there had been no staff at the site at the time of the fire: “We are grateful to Hampshire & Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue for attendance following reports from the public of smoke coming from our Portsmouth materials recovery facility at Tipner in the early hours of this morning.

Thankfully there were no TJ staff on site. The seat of the fire, which has damaged the building, was in a sorting bay of non-hazardous domestic and commercial waste materials. The facility will be closed until further notice – we will be advising customers of the situation. This is the first time anything like this has happened here and we apologise for the disruption caused to the public following closure of the motorway for safety reasons,” they said.

The spokesperson continued: “TJ staff are on site, assisting firefighters in dampening the fire within the building with the use of our plant and equipment. As yet, the cause of the fire is not known. However, there is an increasing trend of lithium batteries being discarded incorrectly by users. The batteries, which charge electrical devices such as mobile phones, vapes and e-bikes, can be explosive and, due to ‘thermal runaway’, cannot be extinguished easily because the heat is so ferocious. It is important that the Tipner site is operational as soon as possible because the materials recovering facility, where a large amount of commercial and domestic waste is sorted and recycled, is a vital part of the regional resource and waste management supply chain.”

HIWFRS has since stated that the “most probable cause” of the fire was lithium batteries, with the service also releasing the following safety message to the public:

  • Avoid storing, using, or charging batteries at very high or low temperatures
  • Do not use if the product or battery appears physically damaged
  • If a battery is not holding charge, gets hot, bulges, or you hear hissing noises – unplug immediately
  • Check with your local bin collection service as to how to safely dispose of batteries.


(Photograph by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service)