Pillar of 'smoke' at Stoke City v Reading game was only steam
THOUSANDS of people across Stoke-on-Trent were left puzzled when a huge column of 'smoke' sparked fears of a catastrophic fire in the city.
Firefighters received dozens of calls from worried motorists on the A500, who believed they were witnessing a huge blaze at the city's Sideway incinerator.
Crowds of Stoke City fans were also alarmed by the sight as they made their way to the Britannia Stadium to witness Saturday's 2-1 win over Reading.
However, bosses at the waste disposal unit later confirmed the fumes were in fact caused by a leak in a boiler, sending thick clouds of steam streaming into the afternoon sky.
Fire crews had already started manning their vehicles.
But before they could leave, Hanford Waste Services (HWS), which runs the plant, revealed there was little cause for concern. Plant manager David Rockey said: "It was caused by a pipe that had burst. When you get a leak on a power station boiler there is a big release of steam.
"Because it is a high pressure system, the safest thing to do is to release that steam so it can vent through the roof."
Dave Ryder was at the Stoke City match with his daughter.
The 32-year-old former bin man, from Longton, told how if the waste management plant had caught fire it would be like a 'towering inferno.'
He said: "I sit at the Boothen end so I have a pretty good view of the incinerator.
"By time the match kicked off at 3pm there wasn't anything unusual about it, but I think a lot of people are so used to seeing the smoke that they may not have realised there was a problem.
"It is a very big structure and a bit of an eyesore, so if it had been on fire then it would have caused a lot of damage."
The incinerator is run by Wolverhampton-based HWS, which is contracted to run the Campbell Road incinerator until 2020.
Plant manager Mr Rockey said: "I have worked there for 28 years and cannot remember a single fire in that time.
"But we do have a procedure in place whereby if there is a release of steam we will inform the fire service because the public think it is a fire and ring up."
A spokesman for Staffordshire Fire and Rescue said: "The calls started coming in at around 2.13pm and they were from members of the public reporting smoke coming from the windows.
"We assigned a pumps from Hanley and Longton but we spoke to the incinerator's owners and they told us we weren't required as there was a problem with the boiler."
Crew manager Andrew Ishwood, from Hanley fire station, was about to attend the call with his crew.
He said: "We were called to it in the middle of the afternoon but we had a phone call saying not to bother.
"They believed there was smoke coming from the building but it turned out it wasn't smoke.
"We had been mobilised but we didn't make it out of the building and the doors hadn't gone up."