Fire hits grain silos at French Atlantic port

PARIS (Reuters) -More than 100 firefighters fought a huge blaze at grain silos in the French Atlantic port of La Rochelle on Thursday, disrupting shipping activity at one of France’s biggest grain export terminals.

The fire started on a conveyor belt at around 8:00 a.m. (0600 GMT) in a grain silo complex operated by SICA Atlantique, the local prefecture said.

Some 120 firefighters brought the blaze under control, helped by the use of a 72-metre (236.22 ft) high lift platform to access the conveyor belt above the grain silos, it said.

Staff from SICA Atlantique and neighbouring companies in the terminal were evacuated and no injuries were reported, it added.

The fire had not reached the inside of the silos containing stored grain, a representative of SICA Atlantique said.

France is the European Union’s biggest grain producer and the cereal terminal at La Rochelle, known as La Pallice, is an important export outlet as it handles larger panamax vessels.

SICA Atlantique declined to comment on how much grain was currently stored in its silos. The cooperative-owned group says on its website that it handles nearly 3 million metric tons of cereals annually.

The prefecture said that grain would be moved from silos close to the fire to another part of the port, but SICA said this had not yet been decided pending an assessment by the emergency services.

Cereal loading activity was suspended at La Pallice due to the security zone established by firefighters, two shipping sources said.

La Rochelle port referred queries to the local prefecture.

The port has loaded a large amount of barley for China this summer as the harvest has arrived, though the current loading schedule was light, according to port data compiled by Refinitiv.

(Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Geert de Clercq, Ingrid Melander; Editing by Sharon Singleton and Christina Fincher)