ARSONISTS have set fire to hundreds of bales of illegally tipped waste at a controversial site blamed for a ‘plague of flies’.

The waste at the former NIPA Laboratories site in Nook Lane, Oswaldtwistle, was torched in the early hours of yesterday.

Firefighters began tackling the blaze at 2am and battled to prevent any environmental contamination.

Three fire engines were mobilised plus an aerial ladder platform to jet water from a height on to the 4,000 black polythene bales of waste left at the site.

Agents speaking for landowners Arthur Morgan said the arson took place after overnight security was taken off the site following threats to staff.

The Environment Agency said it had now launched a criminal investig- ation into activities at the site. Police confirmed they were investigating the arson.

Damping down was still in progress at noon yesterday.

Ward councillor Peter Britcliffe said he wanted answers as to why the site was not being closely monitored after it was identified as a hazard.

He said: “There have been comments on Facebook talking about burning this waste, and it is well known it is a hazard. Why was someone allowed to start this fire?

“The Environment Agency need to be more assertive, step up and take ownership of the problem.

“They are the ones to ensure the site is safeguarded while the removal work is done.

“This whole thing has been a nightmare for residents from start to finish.”

The Environment Agency said site security was the responsibility of the site owner.

Jim Lawler, agent for owners Lockgate/Amcis, said overnight security at the site was now back in place. He said: “We are absolutely appalled at this situation. Everybody is aware that as of Wednesday, work began moving the waste. 300 bales were removed that day and at that rate the land could be clear in ten days.”

Wigan firm Blakeleys, which operates on the site, said it would continue to clear the rubbish, but said the lack of security had hindered its efforts. A spokesman said: “We’d like to reassure everyone that we will continue to endeavour to complete the removal of the waste as speedily as possible.”