Preserved body sparks crematorium blaze

A BODY preserved in high levels of formaldehyde sparked a fire at a crematorium in the north-east of Scotland.

Flames shooting from the furnace were so alarming that managers at the Moray Crematorium in Buckie had to call in the fire brigade.

They also had to submit a report to the Scottish Environmental Agency (Sepa) because a cloud of smoke was emitted in a possible breach of pollution limits.

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One cause of the incident last September was a Scottish holidaymaker who had died while on holiday in Bulgaria. The body had been flown back to Scotland for cremation and, after the service, the procedure should have progressed as normal.

But crematorium staff were unaware that following a post-mortem examination in Bulgaria, the body had been preserved in levels of highly flammable formaldehyde far in excess of normal British levels.

As the cremation progressed, flames suddenly began shooting from the front of the furnace. Operators rushed to shut down the air flow in a bid to control the flames, which caused smoke to billow out of the chimney.

An investigation subsequently found that there was a gap in the metalwork in the ash-pan below the cremation chamber through which the abnormally fierce flames caused by the formaldehyde could escape. The gap had developed following earlier servicing work to replace a faulty element.

"It was felt that the two faults in the cremating machine coupled with the formaldehyde in the body combined to cause the incident," crematorium superintendent Carol-Anne Phimister said in her report into the fire.

"In Great Britain, formaldehyde used for embalming purposes is used at a dilution rate of 2-3%. No information could be found as to the dilution rate in other countries.

"In this particular instance, the deceased had been transported to Britain from Bulgaria following a post-mortem and subsequent embalming. An article, read by one of our engineers, likened formaldehyde to red diesel in that it has a very high flashpoint."

Phimister said the faults in the machine were quickly rectified and it was not anticipated that the incident would occur again. "Flames were coming out of the front of the machine but no one was in danger," she said. "They were out by the time the fire brigade arrived.

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"Hopefully, this was a one-off incident. I have never heard of it happening anywhere else."

A spokeswoman for Sepa said: "We are satisfied that no further action needs to be taken. This isn't a common occurrence."

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