Fire at Rönnskär - operations halted "for weeks"

Fire at Rönnskärverken
Fire at Rönnskärverken

A fire has broken out at Rönnskärsverken. Despite a major rescue effort, the building affected has burned to the ground. The Rönnskär plant is Sweden's only smelter for the production of base metals, and recycles electronic scrap.

Skellefteå 13 juni 2023 10:21

An emergency alert was sounded at 2:24 a.m. The Rönnskärsverken smelting plant in Skelleftehamn is ablaze. According to the emergency operator at SOS, approximately ten fire service vehicles are already on the scene, with another seven to eight en route to provide reinforcement.

Additionally, two ambulances have been dispatched to the scene and an air ambulance has been summoned. The fire is reportedly spreading rapidly, with open flames bursting through the roof, as stated by the SOS Alarm service.

An important public announcement (VMA) has been issued due to the heavy smoke emanating from the fire. All individuals in the vicinity are being urged to seek indoor shelter, closing all windows, doors, and vents.

Most recent update. 11:44 today

Union: "Employees asking questions about vacations"

IF Metall represents approximately 650 employees at Rönnskärsverken. They paint a similar picture to that conveyed by site manager Linn Andersson and confirm that they are engaging in discussions with management.

– We have not initiated any negotiations yet. Currently, the focus is on evaluating the damages and determining the way forward. We are taking it day by day to find ways to return to work, says union chairman Ronnie Allzén.

What are the members saying?

– Some are calling. They are asking questions primarily about vacations—whether they will be cancelled and what happens if they are on standby, for example.

– The overall atmosphere here is very low. I have never experienced anything like this before.

Following updates are from the start of the fire early yesterday morning onwards until yesterday evening.

Update 04:15:

SOS reports a significant number of resources are working on site.

Update 04:40:

The fire service is on scene with over 20 units. The fire is described as extensive. The smoke cloud is visible from a considerable distance.

– It's a large fire with significant spread. We're working at full capacity to extinguish the fire, says an operator at SOS Alarm.

Initial information suggests the fire started in cloths at the plant.

– Flames then erupted from the roof. We don't know much more than that," adds the operator.

Update 04:50:

The smoke appears to be moving eastward, away from the community, reports Norran's on-site reporter Christoffer Åhlund.

Update 05:10:

Medical personnel on site have had to administer treatment to two individuals.

– We have provided oxygen treatment to two individuals experiencing minor distress. However, no one has had to be transported to the hospital," says ambulance nurse Simon Edström.

Update 06:20:

The fire service has requested reinforcements from the Umeå area.

– Firefighters from Robertsfors and a water group from Holmsund are en route. We also have breathing apparatus containers coming up from Umeå, says Conny Qwarforth, an internal command officer with the fire service.

They've also requested two MSB helicopters from Östersund. These can assist with water bombing if necessary.

– We assess that there's still a real risk of further spread, acknowledges Conny Qwarforth.

Update 07:15:

The roof of the electrolysis plant, where the fire started, has collapsed. This is confirmed by the internal command officer, Conny Qwarforth.

– All our focus now is on limiting the spread, he says.

Helicopters from MSB are on their way.

All rescue forces not already engaged in the operation are being assembled at the Skellefteå fire station to plan the ongoing effort.

Further updates:

08:10 • The municipality decides to keep preschools and schools open.

08:25 • SMHI reports that the wind may shift inshore during the day.

08:56 • Boliden Rönnskär announces that all production has been halted, potentially resuming "within a few weeks."

09:15 • The municipality urges residents of Skelleftehamn to conserve drinking water.

10:40 • Helicopters begin water bombing the fire.

11:40 • Boliden Rönnskär announces an extraordinary press conference to be held at 3 p.m.

11:45 • Skellefteå municipality goes into crisis management mode.

Update: 14:00

Two helicopters from the Swedish Agency for Community Safety and Emergency Preparedness (MSB) have been dispatched from Östersund to be on alert, in case the fire expands into a forest fire, reports Johan Marklund, the unit manager of the rescue service in Skellefteå.

– This is the largest fire I've ever been involved in, he says

On Tuesday morning, Boliden declared a halt to all production at the Rönnskärsverken until further notice. According to an initial assessment, production is not expected to resume for several weeks.

– We supply various industrial customers with metals, including copper, for applications such as power line manufacturing. While we're not the only copper producer, anyone dependent on electricity could potentially be affected by this halt, explains Klas Nilsson, Communications Manager at Boliden.

Update: 16:40

Residents in Ursviken and Skelleftehamn connected to Skellefteå Kraft's district heating network have been without heat and hot water since this morning.

– The fire at Rönnskär has caused disruptions. We purchase all our heat from there; Rönnskär supplies both Skelleftehamn and Ursviken, explains Daniel Byström, Facility Strategy Manager for the district heating network at Skellefteå Kraft.

The problem arose when a pipe burst as the roof of the plant collapsed.

Byström reports that an "emergency boiler" has been delivered to Skelleftehamn.

–  We have four people on-site working to refill the network. Hopefully, if all goes well, we'll be done by tonight. But it's uncertain; we may only be ready for tomorrow's shower.

Byström warns that the hot water may be intermittent when it returns.

–  Protective systems cause air to enter the boiler. There's a lot of air in the network now causing the boiler to cut out. It may be particularly unstable in Skelleftehamn tonight.

He estimates that most apartment blocks in both Ursviken and Skelleftehamn are connected to the district heating network, affecting around 200 houses as well.

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