'It was two days until our grand opening ... There was nothing we could do'
THE chequered flag was two days away for Darren Morgan's new go-karting business when the firestorm hit.
Mr Morgan was onsite at Fforestfach when he was notified that flames had broken out in the adjacent building, which was separated by a wall.
He knew what was stored inside - and it horrified him.
Some five minutes later 5,000 tonnes of tyre "flock" — a by-product of recycled of tyres made up of nylon, steel, and rubber — was ablaze next door.
Before long more than 70 firefighters were at the scene to deal with a fire that took nearly three weeks to put out and sparked mass evacuation contingency plans.
This really was a major incident.
"I was terrified," recalled Mr Morgan. "We were literally connected to the building that was on fire.
"We were the most at-risk place. My thought was that our building was going to catch on fire and burn down.
"It was two days until our grand opening. There was nothing we could do."
Setting up cost Skidz Karting, at Queensway in the region of £250,000, he said.
"We had 22 petrol go-karts and four electric ones," said Morgan. "We had to get them as far away from the wall as possible.
"Then we were evacuated off the site."
That was Thursday June 16, 2011.
It was three or four days before he was allowed back to collect paperwork and other belongings.
Fortunately, firefighters had prevented the blaze spreading, but some smoke damage had been sustained.
"It was just a horrendous smell," said Mr Morgan, aged 41.
He recalled that the authorities commandeered the car park to direct the clean-up, and it was six weeks later that Skidz Karting opened to the public.
The company has since had changes of ownership but is surviving.
"We are doing okay at the moment," said Mr Morgan. "The people of Swansea have embraced us pretty well.
"It is a struggle for any business in this climate at the moment.
"Hopefully things are going to start to settle down now."
Mr Morgan said he felt that the tyre waste next door should have been removed before catching fire.
The authorities had been aware of the tyre waste and had deemed the site at risk.
According to Companies House, the firm that owned the burning building, Henley Industries (UK), went into administration nine days before the fire broke out.
Five days after the fire broke out, Swansea Council, Mid and West Wales Fire Service and the then-Environment Agency Wales said in a joint statement: "Emergency services and public agencies had identified the premises as part of an operational intelligence-gathering strategy and had put in place fire-fighting and police response plans.
"The building was secured and inspected at regular intervals.
"The owners of the building had been preparing to remove the items from the premises."
Mr Morgan said: "It should have been dealt with a lot quicker."
A spokesman from Natural Resources Wales said: "Following an anonymous tip off in late January (2011) about an alleged illegal deposit of waste tyre material at the site in Fforestfach, we launched an investigation into the report.
"We took immediate action, advising the site owners to remove the material as a matter of priority. After this was unsuccessful, we informed the company we were about to serve legal notice to force the removal of this waste when the fire broke out.
"Knowing the highly incendiary nature of this material, we had liaised with emergency services and key agencies to make a plan if the worst was to happen.
"This proved vital in dealing with the fire as the Fire Service were prepared and developed innovative ways to put the fire out and deal with the resulting firewater with our advice.
"Other tyre fires in the UK have burnt for months on end as they are notoriously difficult to extinguish."