The blaze in a wood dust silo at James Jones and Sons premises on the Greshop Industrial Estate was reported at 8am, with local part-time firefighters answering the call. The fire had appeared to be under control – but an explosion at around 10.30am led to injuries to four factory workers and two firefighters.
Factory workers reported a large clump of dust becoming dislodged in the silo seconds before the blast. A 59-year-old member of staff – named locally as Brian Robertson, the general manager at the factory – was airlifted by Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
A 20-year-old was taken to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness while two men were taken to Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin.
The two firefighters – both from the local Forres station – were taken to Raigmore suffering from burns.
Speaking at the scene of the incident, assistant chief fire officer Robert Scott said that it appeared all the injuries resulted from the explosion. He said: “First and foremost our thoughts are with our own colleagues, but we are wishing everyone a speedy recovery.
We have been using thermal imaging cameras to ensure there are no hotspot left in the container – access to these containers can be problematic given the height of them.
“We are using hoses from above to fill the silo with water to ensure there is no danger to crews or anyone else. Fires within this type of facility are not unusual – explosions are.”
Also at the scene was Superintendent Mark Cooper, who confirmed that the joint police and fire service investigation was already under way. He said: “We will be talking to people from the factory who saw what happened – but obviously they are all very distressed right now.
“I am not aware of an incident like this happening before in the region. We are getting a team of forensic officers here to establish the cause of the blaze.”
In a statement issued on Thursday evening a spokesman for James Jones and Sons said: “Our primary concern at the moment is for the welfare of our employees and of the injured fire crew, but we would like to thank the emergency services for their response to what is clearly a very serious incident.”
Local councillor Aaron McLean expressed the shock felt throughout the local community.
He said: “The community in Forres will be shocked to hear of this incident at a big local employer in the area.
“People in Forres are already expressing their concern for all those injured and there are many family, friends and colleagues who will be worried. Forres is a tight-knit community and they will do all they can to help people affected.
Moray’s MSP Richard Lochhead expressed his concern on learning of the incident, saying: “The whole community in Forres will be shocked by this but will undoubtedly rally round wherever their support is needed.”
His Westminster colleague Angus Robertson MP added: “This is obviously a bad incident with several injured, including firefighters attending the scene.
“My immediate thoughts are with the workers and firefighters who have been taken to hospital and for everyone else who has dealing with the immediate aftermath in Forres.”