7 September 2016

1st-2nd June 1947: vast fire of scrapped rubber tyres in Mitcham

1 June. Sun. Glorious hot sunny day. The first roses out are Mme E. Herriot, Admiration and shot silk. Alf, Lily & Margaret called: also John Child.

2 Mon. Glorious hot sunny day. 91 in the shade, 117 in the sun. Bought fish locally. Busied myself in the garden thinning out seedlings and put up a framework of strings for Gwennie’s sweet peas to climb up. A great fire of rubber tyres at Mitcham sent up great volumes of black smoke which drifted across the sky right across London and as far as Alexandra Palace.

It was reported that the eye-piece of a discarded WWII gas mask focussed the sun's rays and started this fire. 

The dramatic photo of this fire is reproduced here with thanks to Merton Memories, Heritage & Local Studies.  Link to Merton Memories Photographic Archive:

and there are others at the London Fire Brigade site:

There was even a newspaper report in Australia - see this link:

The following is a question and answer in the House of Commons regarding the fire, copied here from 'Hansard'.

HC Deb 09 June 1947 vol 438 c71W

136. Sir W. Smithers
asked the President of the Board of Trade how much rubber was destroyed by fire at Mitcham on the Government dump on 1st, 2nd and 3rd June; what was the value; whether it was insured; why was such a large accumulation permitted; and why was it not made available to industry sooner.

Mr. Belcher
About 8,000 to 10,000 tons of scrap rubber, valued at from 140,000 to 150,000, was destroyed. The loss is covered by insurance. The dump at Mitcham is one of many set up during the war in various parts of the country to store rubber collected by local authorities. For economy in sorting, distribution and general management it is necessary to concentrate fairly large quantities on each dump. All the scrap has been offered to industry and the great bulk of the reclaimable material has been sold for future delivery.

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