A 74-YEAR-OLD man has been diagnosed with a chemical lung condition after fumes from a waste depot fire poured into his council flat.

Graham Ennis woke with his eyes burning and face covered in ash when a fire broke out at Hollingdean Lane waste transfer station in Brighton late on Saturday night.

Fire crews wearing breathing apparatus battled the blaze for 12 hours and brought it under control. At the time, no injuries were reported.

But after visiting A&E with severe coughing and respiratory problems, Mr Ennis was diagnosed with chemical pneumonitis – inflammation of the lungs caused by irritants such as noxious fumes.

He was sleeping 80 metres from the blaze, on the 9th floor of Dudeney Lodge tower block in Hollindean.

He said: “It felt like my sinuses were on fire. My eyes and nostrils were burning. The windows were open and I woke up after smoke started billowing in. I was wheezing heavily and bringing up phlegm.

“I got up and saw a huge plume of white smoke come pouring straight into our building. There were flames licking around the depot.

“All hell was breaking loose. Our block got the full blast.”

Mr Ennis fears others could have been harmed too. He said: “I may have been the worst hit. I’m taking sleeping pills and I was conked out for longer than everyone else. But anyone close by, within about 400 metres, could be suffering similar symptoms. Anyone with their window open would have got a nasty dose.”

At the time of the blaze, the fire service advised residents to close windows and doors due to the volume of smoke. People as far away as Hove reported a strong smell of burning plastic and rubber.

Tom Walby, incident commander for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Smoke from any fire will contain items that could cause irritation and affect breathing, especially in the elderly, those with heart conditions, asthma or other respiratory illnesses. The advice at the time of these incidents is always to stay indoors if possible and keep windows and doors shut, giving time for the smoke to clear. If anybody still feels their breathing has been affected they should speak to their medical practitioner.”

A council spokesman said: “We appreciate a fire in the city can cause concern for residents. We would like to offer reassurance that the situation was well-managed, with the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service quickly putting out the fire and leading all partners responding to the incident.

"Mr Ennis’s claim that we have ignored him is simply not correct. Our public health team has given him a very full response. In it we emphasised to him that the site where the fire took place is not a council operated site. It is managed by Veolia.

“The fire service is the lead agency with regard to fires, not the council. We believe the Environment Agency will conduct any investigation they think needs to be carried out.

“We had senior staff on-site during the fire liaising closely with the fire service, and we followed their advice scrupulously. Our emergency planning team were in contact with East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and we would have been able to assist had we been asked to

“If Mr Ennis has concerns relating to smoke coming from the fire he would need to take them up with Veolia."

A spokeswoman for Veolia, the company that owns the waste depot, said: “We have actively co-operated with all the relevant authorities during this incident and are now undertaking a full investigation with East Sussex Fire and Rescue. Initial findings suggest the fire was caused by a disposable barbecue. Any resident who feels their breathing has been affected should speak to their medical practitioner for further advice.”

But Mr Ennis said: “That’s utter rubbish. I spent four hours in A&E and I’ve got a medical diagnosis, but none cares. They’re just trying to pass the blame on. They both say they’ve been cooperating, but why did no one get in touch with residents affected by the fire?”