Fire extinguished at automated complex of Britain's Ocado


LONDON (Reuters) – A devastating blaze at British online supermarket Ocado’s (OCDO.L) flagship packing and distribution complex in southern England has been extinguished, but firefighters will remain at the site for now.

Firefighters work at the scene of the Ocado’s flagship robotic distribution centre in flames in Andover, Britain Feburary 5, 2019 in this still picture obtained from a social media video on February 6, 2019. Ringwood Fire Station/via REUTERS

Emergency services have been tackling the fire since Tuesday morning at the highly automated site, which uses hundreds of robots.

Ocado said on Thursday it was working to minimise disruption for customers by increasing capacity at its three other major British sites. It has said the fire would hit sales growth.

A spokesman for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service said the “stop message”, which signals the end of an incident, came in at 6.36 a.m. (0636 GMT) on Tuesday.

“We’ll remain on the scene and have a presence, just monitoring hot spots for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Footage shot by the fire service showed the complex, which Ocado calls a customer fulfilment centre (CFC), completely destroyed. The cause of the fire has not been established.

The Andover complex had been providing about 10 percent of the firm’s capacity in Britain, using robotic technology that it is selling to grocery retailers around the world.

Shares in the firm lost 15 percent of their value on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, the stock had fallen a further 0.3 percent by 1021 GMT.

Ocado said it would boost capacity at its sites in Hatfield and Erith near London and Dordon in central England to meet orders.

The Hatfield and Dordon sites require people to load thousands of crates travelling on miles of conveyor belts. Erith, set up like Andover, has hundreds of robots speeding along at four metres per second on giant steel and aluminium grids.

The fire service spokesman declined to comment on reports that the fire involved automated packaging machinery that used older technology than the advanced systems Ocado has developed.

Ocado said on Tuesday the fire started in the Andover plant in the ambient grid, the section for food items that can be stored at room temperature.

Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Edmund Blair

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