Dousing the Danger: Understanding and Preventing Scrapyard Fires

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Practical tips for preventing a scrapyard fire.

Scrapyard fires seem to be all over the news these days, from Phoenix to Philadelphia, across oceans to London and India. That’s because scrapyards often play host to so many different types of materials. From oxidized metals and plastic trim to paper and rags, a fire can start anywhere. These fires can be bad for your brand reputation, expensive to recover from, and, of course, downright dangerous.

Thankfully, there’s plenty that scrapyard owners can do to reduce the risk of a scrapyard fire. Today, we’re sharing four common causes of scrapyard fires, plus a few tips for preventing them.

Common causes of scrapyard fires

Because every scrapyard accepts and manages a different portfolio of materials, the fire hazards at each will differ slightly. It’s also worth noting that climate and recent weather patterns can also play a role. But here are several of the most common causes of scrapyard fires.

Inappropriate handling and storage of metals

Metals must be stored carefully to minimize the risk of fire catching. If metal scrap is stored in a  big pile and exposed to the elements, oxidation and rust can occur. Rust buildup makes metals more combustible. If temperatures spike within the pile, due to its size or ambient heat, the material can catch fire. Depending on the size and location of the pile, these fires can go unnoticed for quite a long time.

Scrapyard Fire Prevention tip: Pay close attention to how metals are stored and stacked. Consider keeping a space of at least six feet between piles, so fires can’t spread from one to another. And schedule regular walk-throughs of the yard to keep an eye out for smoke or smoldering.

Clusters of flammable objects and materials

Some items that commonly end up in scrap yards, such as cars, are rich with flammable materials. A 2019 scrapyard fire in the UK was largely attributed to vehicle parts. Incident commander Colin Poyzer said of the fire, “Because this scrap metal was predominantly vehicles, there is obviously material within the vehicles that will burn: There’s fuel, plastics, seat materials before the vehicles are fully stripped and shredded. We think it’s these materials that have been burning.”

Several other automotive components are vulnerable to combustion. This includes the gas tank, the battery, and even exterior paint. If these flammable and hazardous materials and substances are clustered together in great numbers, a fire may be more likely to occur.

Scrapyard Fire Prevention Tip: Take care when storing scrap vehicles. As mentioned above, consider storing scrap vehicles in multiple locations to keep potential fires smaller.

Flammable scraps.

Rags and bits of paper can reach combustion temperature much more quickly than some of the other materials mentioned. These scraps can also ignite without an ignition source. And if there’s more nearby, the flames can spread quickly.

Scrapyard Fire Prevention Tip: Keep an eye out for paper, rags, and other small, flammable materials. As mentioned, keep a close watch on piles so you can catch fires as early as possible.

Human error.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take a big mistake to start a scrapyard fire. If someone is careless about tossing a cigarette butt or an old lighter, sparks can catch very quickly. Similarly, if someone makes an unwise decision regarding storage, fires can occur.

Scrapyard Fire Prevention Tip: Training is key here. People will always make mistakes, but if they’re armed with the right information, those mistakes become less frequent. Make sure your team members understand where to put which types of scrap and how much space to maintain between piles. You might lead the same training a few times per year, to keep the information fresh in people’s minds. And you might consider simply banning cigarettes and vape pens from your scrapyard entirely to reduce risk. 

Use the right tools to manage your scrapyard.

Some fire prevention tips, such as maintaining separate piles, can add a layer of operational challenge to running your scrapyard. Thankfully, there’s a way to make this easier.

Scaleit is a state-of-the-art truck scale and inventory management software system that supports complex, custom scrap storage. With Scaleit, you can monitor multiple stores of the same material and get real-time data on both total stock and the quantities in each pile. This makes it much easier to maintain separate storage areas for fire prevention purposes—without sacrificing efficiency.

In addition, Scaleit will integrate with virtually any truck scale on the market. You don’t have to invest in a new one to upgrade your system. Scaleit also stores all vehicle and driver data automatically in the cloud, eliminating the time and hassle of paper tickets. You’re never more than a few clicks away from whatever data you need. You can also build custom reports for tracking supply, demand, profitability, and other key information.
Ready to see Scaleit in action? Schedule a demo with one of our experts, or download a free trial version of Scaleit. And don’t be afraid to ask about costs. We’re dedicated to total price transparency so you can make a confident investment in your scrapyard operations.

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