Family-owned and -run Meckesheim, Germany-based waste plastics recycling machinery producer Herbold Meckesheim GmbH comes to Fakuma with good news for its customers: It will return to a normal production level following a severe fire in the early hours of Sept. 10 at its Meckesheim plant and headquarters, located between Sinsheim and Heidelberg.
The company will also increase the number of employees as it rebuilds facilities, mainly by taking on additional electrical and mechanical engineering staff.
The fire was first noticed and reported by a passerby at 4:17 a.m. According to a police report, it broke out in a 40- by 80-meter storage hall, resulting in not only the storage hall, and the assembly hall, but also an exterior storage area becoming engulfed in flames and entirely destroyed. Two further halls were also affected before 230 firefighters with at least 53 vehicles from 19 fire brigade teams throughout the entire Rhine-Neckar region were able to extinguish some of the fire by 10 a.m. Fire brigade commander René Faul told the Mannheimer Morgen newspaper that it had been "largely extinguished" by 1 p.m. on Sept. 10, but further measures were also needed on Sept. 11.
The police also spoke about three further buildings being severely damaged, including the office building. This contrasts markedly with Herbold's own statement about the fire, when it said on Sept. 10, "No office space, the test center or production halls were affected by the fire," adding that production would continue but with "certain temporary restrictions."
The company added that it was primarily the central storage and dispatch departments that had been affected, stressing that the offices — aside from a short power cut — and the technical department had been spared from the fire. Aside from Herbold's offices, 1,650 Meckesheim households suffered a brief power loss due to a short circuit arising from the Herbold fire.
If the direct damage were not already enough, German railway Deutsche Bahn announced via Twitter that some regional trains running along the track adjoining Herbold's site had also been affected, to the extent that alternative transport was needed, with travelers having to cope with temporary delays or cancellations of connections until services resumed. Road transport around the Meckesheim industrial park was also affected for a while.
Local residents had appreciated the natural barrier screening off the railway track, but this proved to be a potential Achilles heel. Although homes were apparently not affected, the fire brigade issued a catastrophe warning to Meckesheim residents, via a special "Katwarn" app to keep all doors and windows closed to avoid irritation by the smell of burning plastic materials penetrating into homes.
A column of smoke was seen as far as 12 kilometers (7.45 miles) away in Wiesloch, but air toxicity limits had not been exceeded.
Police investigators from Heidelberg began investing the cause on Sept. 10, taking over the storage halls as soon as the area cooled down. It was stated that one hall was at risk of collapse. Mayken Metzger, Herbold marketing assistant, told the Rhein-Neckar Zeitung newspaper that none of the 150 Meckesheim employees had been allowed to enter the closed off area, at least not until conclusion of police investigations. The police finally announced Oct. 11 that the fire had occurred due to a "technical defect in electrical equipment," confirming that this had involved a multiple socket to which a number of devices, mainly mobile equipment chargers, had been connected.
Herbold Managing Director Werner Herbold, who shares his post with Karlheinz Herbold, estimated direct fire costs alone at 5-10 million euros ($5.7-11.5 million). But he stressed on Sept. 27, "the insurer approved our measures to restore an interim operation and granted a sufficient advance so we can realize necessary investments without delay."
Werner Herbold explained just after the fire that although the company had lost all of its logistics, as the destroyed storage hall had to be torn down and rebuilt, he was optimistic the company could provide logistics within several weeks without severe delivery bottlenecks. Meckesheim Mayor Maik Brandt even offered to provide Herbold with a tent for temporary storage use.
The new storage facility is expected to open in November.