Drivers had to use their headlights to travel through smoke seen billowing from a rubbish dump in Rainham this week, a resident has reported.

Havering Council said London Fire Brigade has twice responded to fires at Arnolds Field, in Launders Lane, Rainham this week.

Early on the morning of August 16, a resident travelling along New Road, which runs past the site, filmed cars with their headlights on full beam driving through a thick cloud of smoke.

They told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “The smell is really bad, something between burning plastic or rubber tyres.”

The brigade confirmed that it attended a fire at Arnolds Field yesterday morning (August 17) which destroyed about 20 square metres of scrubland.

Romford Recorder:  London Fire Brigade deployed a ladder to douse a fire in Launders Lane yesterday morning (August 17) London Fire Brigade deployed a ladder to douse a fire in Launders Lane yesterday morning (August 17) (Image: Sue Ospreay)

They said: “The brigade was called at 6.05am, and the fire was under control by 8.15am. The cause of the fire is not known.”

Due to concerns about a “high chance” of buried gas cylinders and sinkholes, firefighters used extending ladders to hose fires on the land.

Nearby residents fear their health and quality of life are impacted by harmful gases from underground fires on the site.

They have become increasingly frustrated with what they see as a lack of action to tackle the fires, which have become more and more frequent in recent years.

In response to a freedom of information request made by the LDRS, London Fire Brigade said it has responded to 179 incidents on or near the site since 2019.

In 2022 alone, it was called to 53 fires and 69 incidents recorded as false alarms.

Havering Council is now working with a university to study the potential risks to human health from smoke using air quality monitors.

However, local campaign group Rainham Against Pollution has criticised the council for taking too long to commission a full survey into what is buried on the land.

The site has been used as a dumping ground for unregulated waste since the late 1990s, when it was used as a quarry.

Landowner DMC Essex, which bought the site for £440,000 in 2017, has accused the council of “blocking” its offer to make the site safe in exchange for planning permission to develop part of the site.

Council leader Ray Morgon has previously written to the Recorder to dispute this,  saying the owner can do what they want within the law.

DMC Essex’s co-owner Jeremiah O’Donovan has been approached for comment about the fires but has not responded.

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency declined to comment, telling the LDRS it is Havering Council’s responsibility to regulate the site.

READ MORE: Environmental groups hit out at council for 'slow progress' in stopping fires

Gillian Ford, deputy leader of Havering Council, said: "We are aware of two recent fires at the Arnolds Field site on Launders Lane.

"Air quality data is reported in real time on the Breathe London website which showed a very sudden peak in particulates which returned to normal after a number of hours.

"Air quality monitoring is being used to understand any risks to health and how best to remediate the site which has been blighted by historic fly tipping."

Cllr Ford added the council is working with the likes of the Enviroment Agency, Imperial College London and TRL "to better understand the impact of these fires on air quality and any potential health risks".

London's deputy mayor for fire and resilience, Fiona Twycross, said: “We know that the Arnolds Field site at Launders Lane has been a hotspot for fires and this has had a huge impact on the local community and affected air quality in the area.

“Fire crews were called out to the site over 100 times last year and this not only placed a strain on the brigade’s resources but also risked firefighters’ safety.

“I visited the site again this month and have helped to ensure that the brigade and City Hall are now represented on a high-level steering group.”