Fire in La Rochelle: a risk of explosion, what do the silos contain?

A hundred firefighters are on the bridge.

Fire in La Rochelle: a risk of explosion, what do the silos contain?

A hundred firefighters are on the bridge. Silos caught fire on the port of La Pallice, rue Montcalm, in La Rochelle. Nearby businesses were evacuated. Here's what we know.

The day after the deadly fire that claimed the lives of 11 people in Wintzenheim, several local media are reporting that a major fire is underway at the port of La Pallice, in La Rochelle. According to Sud-Ouest, 106 firefighters were dispatched to the scene and businesses located within a perimeter of a hundred meters were evacuated. However, no homes were evacuated. A risk of explosion is mentioned. According to the mayor of La Rochelle, at 1 p.m., no injuries or victims were to be deplored.

The firefighters were contacted at 8 a.m. this Thursday, August 10, 2023 in the morning, for a fire that broke out in one of the silos belonging to the Sica Atlantique group. The silo in question is called "Bertrand". The risk of spreading to other silos was therefore not excluded. From now on, four silos would be affected, even if, according to the mayor of La Rochelle, questioned about the 1 p.m. blows on the microphone of BFM TV, it is still unclear at this stage "if the fire has spread inside the silos themselves". A "loading belt, located more than 40 meters high, which is used to supply the filling of the silos" and which caught fire would be the cause of this fire, Lieutenant-Colonel François Thèves told France 3 .

Referring to "very difficult and very risky conditions" of intervention, due to the height, but above all the risk of explosion, François Thèves specified that "toxicity and explosimetry measurements" are regularly carried out. And the firefighter remarked that "on a silo, there is always an explosive risk".

For his part, at the stroke of 1 p.m., the DVG mayor of La Rochelle, Jean-François Fountaine, affirmed that the fire was still in progress. "It's very difficult to intervene because the silos are 50 meters high, so they're higher than the highest [firefighters' note] ladders in La Rochelle. And so, it's by climbing the ladders that the firefighters will try to intervene", he detailed, referring to "a very delicate intervention". And to add: "Let's not forget that we have, not far either, gasoline tanks since we are in a commercial port. Grains are there to be exported to many countries."

While the risk of explosion was quickly identified by the competent authorities, the question of what the silos contain arises. On the site of the Sica Atlantique group, it is detailed that the four silos have a "total capacity of 300,000 tonnes" of cereals. And the company details: "Our grain dock can load ships up to 120,000 tonnes using two loading gantries at 1,000 and 1,500 tonnes/hour simultaneously."