Firefighters worked through the night to dowse the blaze © London Fire Brigade
Firefighters worked through the night to dowse the blaze © London Fire Brigade

Orders disrupted after fire at Ocado warehouse

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
19 July 2021

Thousands of customer orders have been delayed following a fire at an Ocado warehouse.

The blaze at Ocado’s £185m automated customer fufilment centre (CFC) in Erith, southeast London, started after three robots collided with each other at around 12.40pm on Friday 16 July.

The 563,000 sq ft warehouse, which was claimed to be the largest automated warehouse for online groceries in the world, is expected to be out of operation for at least several days.

It is the second fire at an Ocado warehouse in the last two years.

Fifteen fire engines and around 100 firefighters were called to the three-storey building, which is divided into 30 loading bays.

London Fire Brigade said the fire was “deep seated” and “a challenging operation.” Firefighters worked through the night to tackle the blaze.

Station commander Steve Vydelingum said: “Firefighters worked hard in hot and arduous conditions inside the warehouse.

“Around 800 staff evacuated before the brigade arrived. There were no reports of any injuries.”

In Ocado’s CFCs robots move around on a grid system called “the Hive”. The company says the system can pick a 50-item order within minutes.

Ocado said: “The incident at our Erith CFC on 16/07/21 appears to have been caused by the collision of three bots on the grid resulting in a fire. 

“The damage is limited to a small section of less than 1% of the grid having been contained by planned fire attenuation measures.

“Aside from some residual smoke smell, the vast majority of the CFC is in good condition. While we expect some disruption to operations, we are working to restore normal service as soon as possible.

“We expect the facility to begin operating within the coming week and thank customers whose orders are affected for their patience.”

Ocado handles a reported 150,000 orders a week at the Erith facility, which opened in 2018, and shares dipped by about 3% in early trading on Monday (19 July).

A massive fire at Ocado’s Andover warehouse in 2019, believed to have been caused by an electrical fault in a battery-charging unit, cost £110m.

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