Fire Interrupts Shipping Activity at France’s Largest Grain Port

grain silo fire
Fire spread to exterior of four grain silos (Charente-Maritime photos)

Published Aug 10, 2023 2:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

An early morning fire in the grain operation at the French port of La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast interrupted activity in the port and caused an evacuation and warnings for the residents to close windows and doors. Pictures and videos show a large smoke plume coming from the grain silos and spreading across the region.

Local officials said they received reports of a fire at the complex operated by SICA Atlantique at around 8:00 a.m. on Thursday morning. France’s largest grain export facility, it handles more than three million tons annually. 

Firefighters were struggling to contain the inferno reporting that it appeared to start in one silo and spread to three neighboring silos. Initial reports were that there were 96 firefighters on scene and after a call for reinforcements, the reports said 120 firefighters and 22 pieces of equipment were being used to fight the fire. One of the challenges was the height of the silos with the team bringing in a special lift platform to gain access to the fire.



Reports said that 20 personnel working for SICA were accounted for and evacuated from the site. The fire department set up a 100-meter zone around the fire also evacuating other nearby businesses and residences. Concerns were raised about the nearby Picoty and SDLP oil depots, but firefighters said they were confident they had been able to prevent the spread of the fire.  

SICA later announced that the fire had been contained and limited to the exterior of the silos fueled by wood sheathing. They reported that the fire was believed to have been started by a conveyor belt used to move grain. They said the grain had not been impacted but there were reports that efforts were underway to move grain away from the fire.

Load operations in the La Pallice area were suspended during the firefight. The port typically handles Panamax vessels with recent large shipments of barley heading to China.

Local officials were doing smoke testing throughout the city while advising people sensitive to smoke to close windows and doors and turn off exterior ventilation.