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Ocado hit by second fulfilment centre fire

Ocado: more customers buying less

Ocado has been affected by a second fire at a fulfilment centre. 

The retailer says there was a small fire at its fulfilment centre in Erith, south east London, on Friday. 

This, it says, took place when three bots on its grid collided. The online grocer says that no-one was injured in the incident, which was kept under control through measures including evacuation, the sprinkler system and the presence of the London Fire Brigade, and that less than 1% of the grid was affected – since measures were in place to limit spread. 

However, the fire has meant that deliveries have had to be cancelled. The centre is used by both Ocado Retail, a joint venture between Ocado and Marks & Spencer, and to deliver orders for Morrisons.

Ocado says in a statement: “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.”

Fifteen fire engines and about 100 firefighters from Bexley fire station were called at 12.42pm to tackle a “deep seated” fire, which took more than 12 hours to bring under control, by 2.17am. 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. The fire is very deep seated and firefighters will continue to be at the scene into Saturday (17 July) damping down hot spots.” 

The fire comes more than two years after the online grocer suffered a fire at its Andover site, which, again, originated with bots on its grid. That site is only just going back into operation, with a return taking place in the current quarter. Morrisons was also affected by that fire, since it agreed to suspend its use of the Erith fulfilment centre while the Andover centre returned to operations. It has since returned to use the Erith centre. 

The incident suggests that the bot grids that Ocado relies on to pack and deliver its groceries remain vulnerable to fire. If the business is back in operation within a week, however, this would represent progress, when contrasted with the effects of the fire at its Andover centre. 

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