Fire at Jamaica recycling plant caused by improperly disposed-of lithium battery: FDNY

A massive fire that broke out at a recycling plant in Queens Friday afternoon started by the improper disposal of a lithium battery, FDNY officials said Saturday morning.

The five-alarm fire ignited at Royal Waste Services, located at 187-40 Hollis Ave. in Jamaica, just before 1 p.m. on Friday and was brought under control by 8:54 a.m. Saturday, FDNY spokespersons said. It was caused by the “accidental, improper disposal of [a] lithium battery,” the agency said in a tweet Saturday.

Firefighters expected to remain on the scene of the recyling plant to monitor the situation through Saturday afternoon, an FDNY spokesman said.

The fire proved difficult to contain because newspaper and cardboard were piled up to as much as 15 feet at the plant, Queens Borough Commander Edward Baggott explained Friday evening. 

“There’s a wind condition that exacerbated the fire,” Baggott added.

At its height Friday evening, 198 firefighters from 44 units were on the scene, the FDNY spokesman said. They were using heavy machinery to remove newspapers, cardboard and other materials, according to Baggott. One firefighter suffered a minor injury.

The fire’s location near the tracks on the Long Island Rail Road forced the rail system to temporarily suspend service in both directions on the Hempstead, Oyster Bay, Port Jefferson and Ronkonkoma lines shortly before the Friday evening rush hour. Service resumed just before 5 p.m. and returned to operating on or close to schedule by 10:17 p.m., according to the LIRR.

Lithium batteries, at blame for the Queens fire, have been banned by most U.S. airlines as cargo on passenger flights and have a reputation for being dangerous. They can heat up quickly if the slip of polypropylene that keeps their electrodes from touching is breached. That’s problemattic, because they’re also filled with a flammable electrolyte that can combust when heated.