HOMES and businesses were evacuated after a major blaze swept through a Kidd-erminster recycling centre.

The fire broke out in recycling material at Lawrence Recycling, in Stourport Road, at about 10.50am yesterday, leaving a plume of thick smoke billowing in the air.

An investigation is now being launched into the cause of the blaze.Workers were evacuated from the building within three minutes of the alarm being raised and no-one was believed to have been injured.

Nearby businesses and residents were also told to leave their premises as a precaution, while others were warned to keep their windows and doors shut until the fire was brought under control.

It caused traffic chaos as a half-a-mile section of Stourport Raod was closed. Drivers, were faced with diversions as the thick smoke from the plant combined with fog.

Fifteen fire crews from Kidderminster, Stourport, Bewdley, Bromsgrove, Droit-wich, Upton, Tenbury and Worcester were scrambled to the scene and spent five hours tackling the blaze using five main jets.

A hazardous materials officer, a command support unit from Shropshire and a further fire crew from Stourbridge also attended.Witnesses described seeing smoke billowing out of the building as the fire dramatically took hold.

A spokeswoman for The Community Housing Group said staff had to be evacuated from their offices as the strong smell of smoke filled the reception area.

She added: “There were thick plumes of smoke coming past the window. There was so much that you couldn’t see anything. It looked like it was coming from the top of the building but you couldn’t see flames - it was just smoke.”

David Perry, of printing firm Stargold Ltd in Stourport Road, described how he saw “smoke billowing from the recycling centre”, adding there were no flames.

Graham Silk, health and safety officer at Lawrence Recycling, said the cause of the blaze was unknown.

He added: “An evacuation was observed by our staff and there are no injuries or missing people. The fire suppression system deployed and we believe has saved the facility.”

He added: “We will be launching an investigation.”

The fire involved paper and plastic materials being stored ready for recycling in a large warehouse at the site.

Area Commander Jon Pryce, from Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We arrived at the plant to find a deep-seated fire in a huge pile of waste materials awaiting recycling.”

He added the building being used to store the thousands of tons of waste material was unaffected by the fire.

The fire service said the recycling plant had an “excellent”safety record, adding staff at the site used their machinery to help move waste material.

Police said a half mile section of Stourport Road between the Oldington traffic lights and the Loom and Shuttle pub was expected to remain closed until this morning.