Thick black smoke is billowing over Leamington Spa after a huge fire has broken out.
Road closures are currently in place as the fire brigade attends an industrial premises – believed to be a plastic factory – on Juno Drive, in the south of the town in Warwickshire.
A megalab several hundred feet away – formally known as the Rosalind Franklin Laboratory – which serves as a national facility for testing Covid samples has been evacuated.
Metro.co.uk reporter Josh Layton, who is at the scene, said: ‘The fire is making sounds like crashing waves.
‘There was a huge muffled explosion and a mushroom of flames just sent more flames into the sky and a wave of heat towards homes around a mile away.
‘Homes in the nearby radius have been evacuated, and no one is allowed in or out – even residents.’
There are fears the smoke may be toxic as witnesses say people have been spotted vomiting and holding their heads.
Two paramedics and a hazardous area response team are at the scene, and an air ambulance has also been reported landing in the area.
Warwickshire Police said businesses and houses nearby have been evacuated and that one person remains unaccounted for.
Anyone living within 70 metres of the site has been urged to keep their windows and doors closed.
Tradesman Andy Foster, 41 and from Birmingham, said: ‘We saw a bit of smoke and the emergency services came. Then there were some loud bangs which took the side and the roof of a merchants yard out – I don’t know if they were gas cylinders or what.
‘Then the emergency services told us to move back because it had moved on to chemicals in a building next to it.
‘It’s spreading and it’s moving near the [coronavirus testing] megalab. It’s worse than at the start. It seems like it’s fuelling itself.’
Helen Elizabeth, 37, a house cleaner, lives five doors away from what is now a huge plume of billowing smoke and lashings of flames.
‘I was at the shops and saw the smoke and had text messages,’ she told Metro.co.uk.
‘I ran home to get my daughter and get her out and parked in the bowling alley. I just felt disbelief. We’re not being allowed back in.
‘It looks like it’s getting worse and I’m worried about losing my home.’
A worker at a nearby premises on the industrial estate was shaken by an explosion as the blaze started at a commercial unit 100ft away.
The person, who did not want to be named, told Metro.co.uk: ‘We were stood there when there was an explosion and it just went up.
‘It shook me and it shook the whole of our building. It made you jump up of your feet.
‘It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. It was crazy. After the explosion there was a small amount of flames in one corner but it spread really quickly.
‘We just grabbed masks and rounded up our customers to make sure they were safe.
‘Then there was explosion after explosion. The emergency services arrived in around five minutes and we were evacuated.’
Although it’s unclear exactly where the blaze started, pictures taken at an early point in the incident show a commercial unit on the same road as the megalab well alight, with the smoke and flames appearing to spread to a neighbouring premises.
MP for Warwick and Leamington Matt Western said: ‘Leamington has been shaken to its core by the serious fire in Juno Drive near Tachbrook Park Industrial Estate.
‘the scale of the blaze is staggering.
‘I’ve spoken with police and fire chiefs who are keeping me informed.
‘I’m told Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service has deployed a dozen fire tenders and crews – and chiefs are confident that they can contain the fire.
‘It is extremely worrying for our community and I am concerned for employees who were on site.
‘I want to thank the emergency services for their professionalism and bravery – and residents for their adherence to guidance.
‘It is very important to keep at least 70 metres away from the scene and please close doors and windows if you near the area.
‘Avoid breathing in any smoke and stay indoors.’
The huge plume of smoke can be seen 17 miles away at Birmingham Airport.
Residents and drivers have been warned to keep their doors and windows closed due to the fire which started at around 10.30am this morning.
Public Health England West Midlands said: ‘People in areas affected by smoke from the fire in Leamington Spa should stay indoors, keep doors and windows closed, and check local radio, online information and advice.
‘Motorists should keep windows closed, turn off air con and keep air vents closed.’
The cause of the fire is not yet known. There are some reports of explosions being heard at the scene.
A spokesperson from Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service said: ‘Warwickshire Fire are dealing with a large building fire in the Leamington area.
‘Local residents advised to keep doors and windows closed and a minimum 100 metres away from the incident.’
Some locals have been evacuated from their homes near the building, which is a short distance away from the town’s railway station.
A spokesperson for Warwickshire Police said: ‘Emergency services are currently in attendance at a fire at a premises in Juno Drive, Leamington.
‘Road closures are currently in place. Please keep windows and doors closed. Further updates will be posted when available.
‘Properties within the vicinity are currently being evacuated as a result.’
One worker at the megalab was sent a text message by contracting company Balfour Beatty saying the site will not open tomorrow while a risk assessment takes place.
The message read: ‘She looks to be OK in general but there is still a heavy smell from the fumes and soot has settled.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Staff at the Rosalind Franklin Laboratory have been evacuated as a precautionary measure and all emergency incident protocols are being followed in order to protect their safety.
‘We continue to work closely with the fire and emergency services on this ongoing incident and testing will resume as soon as it’s safe to do so.’
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